An Inside Look at Custom Home Building

You can build your own home - if you really want to, and have the money, time, patience, and imagination.

On any given Sunday, the local newspapers are full of ads offering custom-built houses for sale. This is a monumental tribute to the ingenuity of the American building industry. It is no longer necessary to slow the wheels of commerce with the old tediously inefficient system of locating the family before custom building the home to accommodate their individual needs and personal life style. But unless you order your eye-glasses through the mail, you’re probably going to think twice about agreeing to this erosion of the pillars of individuality.

The true custom-built house is an experience, a happening. It’s frustrating, frightening, annoying, traumatic, costly, arduous, time consuming – and fulfilling, the ultimate expression of yourself.

Here are five home owners who would not settle for house first, people second. An architect, a young family, a bachelor, a young couple and a sales manager. Share their wins and losses. Build on their ideas and learn from their experiences. Then we’ll take a look at the “how to” specifics – where to build, how to get your ideas on paper, finding a builder, financing, styles and other practicalities.

The Bachelor

Burton Enquist credits his dream house to a Christmas Eve wine binge. “I just had a couple of days off,” he says, “not really enough time to go home to visit the folks. So my boss was kind enough to invite me over to his place. After the festivities I was driving home and saw a beautiful area of hills and woods with a sign advertising lots for sale.

“I got out and walked around and just couldn’t believe it. Here, right in the middle of the city, I could hear birds singing and the wind rustling the tree leaves. I grew up in the country but I had forgotten what it was like. All I ever heard at my apartment were loud stereos and screeching tires. And my view consisted of several acres of asphalt parking lot. So I decided to make my move. I’d been thinking about building a house for a long time and this fueled the fire that ultimately engulfed me.”

A lot of people ask Burton why he, a bachelor, wants to live in a house. “I just wanted something better,” he says, “something to represent the years I’d spent working. But I didn’t want suburbia, with the houses all lined up in neat rows, where everybody goes through the same lawn mowing ritual on Saturday morning. To me a custom built house is more than just picking out wallpaper. I had looked in Richardson and north Dallas, but this place got to me.” The East Dallas development selected by Burton is quite small by most standards, having only a handful of houses, all in the $150,000 range.

Burton hired Mark Shekter, a local architect, to draw up the plans. “I knew after walking up and down the lot that I would need a two-level, but after talking with Mark I decided to go with three,” Burton recalls. “Which was super. I wanted something different. I lived in that house mentally for several months, and made change after change. Twice we started all over again with the design. Then finally, when I was convinced it was right, I made a deal with Bob Felton to build it for me. This was 11 months after finding the lot.”

The arrangement with the contractor was “cost plus.” Under this type of agreement there is no fixed price set beforehand. Instead the amount of fee is determined after the job is finished, based upon a percentage of the total cost. This type of arrangement has an obvious advantage – flexibility, and a disadvantage – inadequate cost predictability. “I went over what I had planned to spend by 13 percent,” Burton recalls somewhat painfully.

The 35-foot ceiling in the Enquist den is lined with cedar planks. All glass is tinted. “I don’t like ash so I went to the library and studied woods to see what else was available,” Burton says. “I chose American black walnut for the den paneling and the bar. I had to go to Houston to pick it out.” The stair railings are made of clear heart redwood; the kitchen cabinets are teak.

The master bedroom (walls are covered with suede) is perched atop the whole house like a majestic throne. There are twin skylights in the den, another in the master suite.

“You’ve got to get involved in the construction,” Burton insists. “If you sit around on your fanny you’re not going to be satisfied with the final product. I was out there every day, and every day I’d get a new idea. It’s kind of like the growth of a plant. You know basically what it will look like, but not exactly. It just doesn’t look the same in three dimensions as it does on paper.”

The Young Family

Kay and Jim Carney wanted lots of space for their family to grow. “Jim and I are both big people,” Kay says, “and we know our children will be tall, too.” With three sons ranging in age from six to ten they needed a house that had lots of room inside and lots of yard outside.

Few areas in Dallas allowed for the kind of house the Carneys were planning, a house that would be their home for many, many years – a family “homestead.” When Kay and Jim found a 2 1/4-acre plot in the El Ranchero section of North Piano, they knew it was right for them. The area, surrounded by farmland, is sparsely sprinkled with large new homes, many sitting on four acres of yard.

Designer Peter Paul Manos arranged a 5,000 square foot, one-story house on the land that still left them enough room for a future swimming pool, tennis court, or stable. “We have the largest area of flat land in the neighborhood, and all the boys love to use the yard as a soccer and baseball field. So it may be a while before we turn it into something else.”

Everything inside the Carney house reflects the “bigness” of the family. Rooms are large and most have ceilings high enough to accommodate a second floor. The working areas in the kitchen are all elevated to a level comfortable for Jim and Kay to cook on. “Jim and I are usually in the kitchen together. He loves to invent new dishes and rework leftovers into something different. I’m a basic recipe chef. But we both love to cook.” Jim even designed a spice-rack drawer that makes it easy to spot the specific bottle or tin he’s looking for.

Each of the boys has his own bed-room at the opposite end of the house from the master bedroom. “We keep the intercom on at night in case the young one cries,” Kay says. “So really, we’re never that far away.” The boys share a bathroom area that includes a mirrored row of four sinks. “At first,” Kay continues, “I thought all those sinks were a little much, but Jim pointed out that the boys will all be shaving at the same time and could use the room.”

Builder Peter Shaddock stresses that while the Carneys’ emphasis on family home life made for a very special project for him, as building costs escalate, a house this large gets more and more expensive to build. But Kay and Jim Carney can enjoy their investment while their family has time and space to grow.

The Architect

Most architects refuse to design their own home unless they have an unlimited budget. The pressure is too great, with their reputation on the line with every visitor. But this didn’t deter Dur-wood Pickle, who is probably better known for such architectural accomplishments as the Zale Building, the Eastman Kodak Building and the Petroleum Club, than for his residential designs.

“I tried to recapture the basic features of the early East Texas houses with the huge porches at the front and the rear,” says Durwood. “From there I went into the style variations that have influenced Texas architecture, especially Mexican.

“It took me about a year, off and on, working at night to finish the drawings,” Durwood recalls. The problem then was that Elizabeth, Durwood’s wife, just couldn’t look at all of those lines and symbols and feel confident that he had designed a house she would be satisfied with. So he built her a scale model, as he does with his commercial jobs.

A fluid transition from the structural to the natural features of the residence was a distinct aim of the Pickle design. The vine-laden woods along the creek at the rear is featured to full advantage by the paralleling Terra Firma tiled porch that extends 98 feet across the back of the house. A glass-enclosed breakfast area houses living greenery that blends visually with the exterior growth. All along the 39-foot combination living, dining and game room are full-length windows that afford an effortless view of the outdoors.

“Space is an architect’s most valuable tool,” says Durwood. His design called for columns throughout at 12-foot intervals, with walls only where they’re needed for privacy or quiet. The ceilings are 10 feet high, and lined with raw cork. The acoustics are such that separate conversations at social gatherings are easily conducted simultaneously in normal tones. Because of the frugal use of interior walls, you can stand at one end of the interior of the house and see all the way to the other.

“Actually, it didn’t turn out anything like my original dream house,” says Elizabeth. “I discovered that the peculiarities of the lot you buy dictate the kind of house you design.” “We had to have resale in the back of our mind too,” says Durwood. “It just wouldn’t have been responsible not to.”

Raymond Shorter, the Pickles’ builder, is one of the few survivors of a dying breed. He builds one house at a time and refuses to allow himself to be rushed into sacrificing quality.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” says Elizabeth, “except maybe make the breakfast area a little bigger.” Durwood would probably use insulated windows next time, and maybe a tile roof instead of wood shakes, for safety’s sake. “Designing is satisfying in itself,” Durwood says, “but it’s nice to finally get to use something I created rather than just walking off and leaving it after it’s finished.”

The Young Couple

“We looked at spec houses and tract houses and couldn’t find anything we i liked,” Nancy and Bill Hoffman recall. “We even looked at older places in the Park Cities. But who needs to compete with wealthy people for a place in Highland Park that still isn’t exactly what you want?”

After scoping out the market in Dal-las, Nancy, a librarian at SMU, and Bill, a textbook salesman, decided to build for themselves. “We bought a lot in Lakewood three years ago in a neighborhood we really liked. We talked to a lot of spec builders then, but we didn’t find anybody who could build what we wanted for our very limited budget. We had just about given up and were ready to sell the lot when we finally found a designer who could incorporate our requirements into a living environment.”

After the budget problems, foremost of the Hoffmans’ requirements was that the master bedroom be separated from the rest of the sleeping areas and that it be adjoined to a study. So the master suite was put upstairs with the bedroom and bath overlooking the creek that parallels the Hoffmans’ back yard, and the study opening to the arcade formed by the pitched ceiling of the lower level. The other two bedrooms (“for our ’hypothetical’ children”) of this 2,400 square foot house are on the ground floor.

The downstairs area is glass enclosed along the back wall of the house affording bright, natural light and an unobstructed view of the natural growth of the creek. Another important feature is the overall layout – never does one have to go through one room to get to another.

Because of the unique design of their contemporary house, the Hoffmans had difficulty finding a builder. “Our designer at Graphic Design Group didn’t think it was ethical to recommend one builder over another. Most builders we talked to didn’t want to do anything out of the ordinary,” Nancy remembers. “Every little extra detail we wanted was balked at and added to the cost.” Bill adds, “One guy took a look at our plans, shook his head, and complained that the tall ceiling would require his crew to stand on scaffolding. And, really, the plans weren’t extraordinarily complex. Finally, we found a builder, Les Edmonds, who was excited about the plans and who really seemed to enjoy working on the house. Not that we didn’t have some rough spots, like the time they laid the Mexican tile all wrong and had to tear it out and start over. But if we had it to do again, we’d hire Les. We’ve lived here five months now; and I keep waiting for the vacation to be over.”

The Sales Manager

“Looking at spec houses is like looking for a new car,” says John Snyder, sales manager for the Adleta Carpet Division. “You find one with power steering and power brakes and it won’t have an automatic trunk deck opener. So you wind up buying one that’s almost what you wanted, but not quite. We didn’t want to do that with our house. To us it was worth it to spend a little more to get it just right.”

“We had a nice house in Canyon Creek,” says Mary Carole, John’s attractive wife, “but we wanted a contemporary. And that was a couple of years ago before the contemporary craze hit here. There weren’t that many to choose from then. One Sunday afternoon we found one that was close. We got to talking to the builder and told him why his house wasn’t quite right for us. He said he could build us anything we wanted.”

The plans were drawn by the builder’s regular architect, just the way the Snyders wanted them. A lot was selected in a far north Dallas area where new homes in the $80,000 to $120,000 price range were being built. The first problem in the construction phase came rather early – just after the forms were set to pour the concrete slab. “It just hit us all of a sudden,” John recalls. “We had designed the house backward. Our kitchen window was going to look right into our neighbor’s master bedroom and our master bedroom looked out onto his air conditioning unit. I could just see us lying there listening to it click on and off all night.”

The concrete trucks were all lined up ready to pour. About that time the builder walked up and asked if everything was all right. Mustering his courage, John asked him if he would mind turning everything around, though actually expecting to receive alternate advice as to what should be done with the forms. Amazingly, without a whimper, the builder started over, the concrete trucks disappearing into the sunset.

“Another time we dropped by to check things out and discovered that the stairs were in the wrong place,” said John. “No one was there so we left a note on the stairs, telling them to move them two feet with an arrow pointing the way. The next day the stairs had been moved another two feet in the wrong direction.”

“If you don’t get with a builder who’s accommodating, your dream house will turn into a nightmare,” John warns. “We were fortunate.”

The focal point of the Snyder home is the king-sized den, with a ceiling arched to 20 feet. A massive fireplace adjoins the planter and stairs. Paneling is cedar planks.

“When we moved here from the north there’s no way we could have waited six months for a custom built house,” John says. “I think that’s how most people get trapped into settling for a roof and four walls in a tract development. But eventually the pressures start to build within yourself to meet your own expectations once you have the wherewithal to make your own choices.”

How to get started on your own.

One of the problems with designing your own house is that you need to do several things first. The top priority is finding a lot. The house must be planned with a specific lot in mind. But there are some locations that lenders won’t touch, and if your favorite builder has a dozen houses in progress in Lew-isville he probably won’t be willing to leave them behind to watch your dream house sprout in Midlothian.

So after you select your lot, it’s best to act fast. Check with your builder and lender to see if there are any problems with the location. Get your architect to take a look, to be sure that there are no insurmountable design problems, such as building a 150’ house on an 80’ by 120’ lot. Then tie up the lot with an option or a deposit. And when you close the deal insist on an Owner’s Title Policy. It can really slow things down later on to discover that the fellow you bought the lot from didn’t own it.

Watch out for the vacant fringes. Even if the seller is leveling with you about what’s planned across the street, zoning classifications are no more reliable than the whims of the local politicians. The staid East Dallas residences which once overlooked Bob-O-Links golf course now abut a new subdivision. A Duncanville addition which once neighbored a meadow of dandelions and Indian blankets now adjoins a huge new car dealership.

“The first thing you have to decide after picking your lot is whether you’re going to defy the land or adapt to it,” advises builder Robert Edelman. “Sure, it’s easier for the builder to bulldoze than it is to build on multi-levels, but the final product won’t be nearly as interesting.”

Where to Spot a Lot

It’s very difficult to get a builder or a real estate broker in Piano to talk to you about houses – all they want to talk about is schools. In 1960 the population of Piano was 3,695. By 1975, it had increased more than 1,000 percent to 38,300. There were five schools 10 years ago – today there are 20.

People first started moving to Piano because they could get more for their money than in Richardson, because of low land costs. But this reason is becoming less valid all the time. The $3,000 Piano lot of 1966 now costs $12,000. This is still cheaper than Richardson ($15,000 to $20,000) and North Dallas ($20,000 to $40,000), but 20 miles is a long way on Central Expressway at 5 p.m. Whatever the appeal, there have been more houses built in the City of Piano in the last three years than in the City of Dallas.

DeSoto and Duncanville land values are still suffering from the stigma of being on the wrong side of town, though both are full of fine residential areas. The biggest southside disadvantage was cured a few months ago with the opening of Redbird Shopping Mall. There’s one subdivision in DeSoto with homes ranging from $40,000 to $55,000 in value with lots priced at $6,300, going begging. High Meadows is ? mile off 1-35, 14 miles from downtown Dallas.

“We build identical houses on 80’ lots in DeSoto and 70’ lots in Carrollton,” said one builder. “We have to charge $6,000 more for the Carrollton houses to retrieve our land costs.”

The mesquite-infested hills of east Irving were once about as popular a place to live as the Dakota badlands. But this is now the locale of University Hills, lots $13,000 to $29,000. This is one of the few subdivisions in the area that cater to individual plan builders rather than to so-called custom builders whose houses all look like brothers. “We’re just starting a house down on the golf course that will have seven levels and an indoor-outdoor swimming pool,” said Jean Arthur, a representative for the developer.

In the Park Cities, except for a little development east of SMU, the lots are all taken. About the only way to get one is to buy one with a modest house on it, demolish, and start all over.

The prime developments in Dallas are those on the far north which are in the City of Dallas, but in the Richardson School District, advertised by one builder as “the best of all worlds.”

A lot of people used to shy away from the suburbs because of the small town politics. Now things seem to have flip-flopped. Some of the more stable local governments are in the bedroom communities, where there is a community of interest.

On the Drawing Board

You’ve probably been planning your dream house for years. Now you need to get your ideas on paper, in a form sufficiently clear to allow the builder to give you a cost estimate and a loan company to issue a commitment. There are three ways to get this done:

1. Hire an architect. If you’re willing to pay the price he can do it all. He will design the house, estimate the cost, line up a builder, supervise and inspect the construction, and tend to a practically endless series of important details. On a $100,000 house (not counting the cost of the lot), this service will run from $10,000 to $15,000. But it can save you a lot of headaches, financial and otherwise, and will substantially lessen the likelihood of shoddy construction. For design only (no inspection), expect to pay $1,500 up.

2. Hire a residential designer. When asked how residential designers operate, one architect said snidely, “By the seat of their pants.” But a local developer disagrees. “Our most imaginative free-flowing designs are done by one of our residential designers,” he insisted.

A residential designer, unlike an architect, doesn’t have to have a degree or a license. He may be an ex-builder, a draftsman, or have some other background. The local designers have formed an organization which has established guidelines for membership in an effort to lend a degree of dignity to the profession – the Texas Institute of Building Design.

Residential designers prepare plans that have much less detail than full architectural drawings, usually limited to the basics such as elevations, layout and dimensions. But they charge less too. For 3,000 square feet, expect to pay $500 to $1,000.

3. Work through the builder. He will have his regular architect do the drawings, and you will pay indirectly. This can be awkward, though, sort of like working through a translator.

On a house costing $100,000 or less, the residential designer can do the job for you, unless you’re designing an engineering marvel, such as a cantilevered cliff-side abode. More than $100,000, lean toward the architect. More than $200,000, lean further – toward the architect’s package plan including inspection.

Very few people hire an architect to do the whole package – design through inspecting to completion, probably less than 5 percent, and usually just on big money jobs. Most architects are willing to contract for design only. But a few won’t – they’ve been burned by getting blamed for houses that didn’t look as good in person as on paper when the uninspected builder was really to blame.

Builders are not particularly fond of architects’ inspections. On a package job the builder’s financial life is in the architect’s hands. He doesn’t get paid until the architect approves his work. And the more imaginative the architect’s design, the greater the risk of an off-base cost estimate by the builder. Some builders and architects work quite well together though. Make sure your pair is compatible.

Al Zahn and Don Moore are residential and commercial building designers, operating The Plan Shoppe, at 10010 Miller Road, which is sort of a house plan supermarket. “We’ve been accumulating house plans for years,” said Don. “We have them catalogued by lot size. If they wanted to, a couple could come in here and pick out a plan for about $80 or $90. But no one does that anymore. Most people can’t afford what they really want, so they compromise on a smaller house, but they insist on building it the way they want it. So these basic plans are just starting points. We take them and conform them to what the buyer wants.”

Nailing Down a Builder

Your dream is now on paper. You’re dying to see dirt start flying. But you discover a very discouraging fact of life – most builders don’t want to build your dream house. Speculative builders, especially in good times, won’t even look at your plans. Why should they? They have built the same house for so long that they know it will require exactly 9,712 nails. Who knows how many yours will require?

A young DeSoto couple came away in a state of shock from their first effort to line up a builder. “All we wanted to do was make a few changes in his basic plan,” said the distraught wife. “Everything we suggested was going to cost us more. Then when he figured it all up he added an extra $2,000. He said that was for the surprises that you always run into when you start changing things.” Cardinal rule in custom home building – back off from a hesitant builder.

There are several fine custom builders locally. Most architects and designerscan recommend builders who aren’t afraid of innovation, artisans who may build only one house at a time, and who won’t penalize you financially for having a new idea.

“The best advice that I could give someone building his own house is to hire a competent builder,” says Dwayne Brinkley, a local architect. “No matter how good your plans are, the finished product won’t be any better than the builder is.”

If You Want to Stay in Style

A few years ago, two out of every three houses in many of the local subdivisions were Spanish or Mediterranean, with either arched or narrow front windows, usually adorned with decorative wrought iron. These were a dream for builders who thrived on repetition. Then one day, everyone walked out into the front yard, and all were dismayed to see that every house looked alike. Now Spanish is dead. Long live Contemporary.

With the Contemporary influx, largely a California influence, subdivisions are becoming interesting again. And innovative design is welcome now, even in “nice” areas. A disturbing collision course seems to be developing, however, between the Contemporary craze and the antique-inspired 19th century America stylings which have flooded this year’s furniture market.

“My favorite style of architecture is what I guess you would call Texas rusticated,” said Paul Haberman, an Irving architect. “I like to use shake shingles, redwood, cut stone and plenty of glass to take advantage of the natural features of the lot.”

The “in” feature of the fashionable house today is the atrium. This hole in the roof is found in almost all architectural styles, and represents an effort to give interiors an outdoor look, with plants, waterfalls and stone walks located to soak up the rays of the sun. Jerry Stiles, who builds in North Dallas and Piano, was a pioneer in the use of indoor plants and is a master with atria and solaria. Designer Don Moore claims, “With all the break-ins people hear about, there seems to be a trend toward locating gardens and patios on the inside and cutting down on exterior access.”

The Cost Is Anybody’sGuess

About 10 years ago there was a state of near panic among the local builders. It was no longer possible to hold the cost line at $10 per square foot. Would there be a buyers rebellion.’ 10 soiten the blow, some builders started advertising that the $10 per square foot was still available, but the calculation didn’t include the price of the lot.

Today, the minimum square footage cost figure for “spec” houses will get you no worse than a tie on the Las Vegas blackjack tables, also not including the price of the lot. A 2,000 square foot spec house in Piano, lot and all, will run about $55,000.

But you can’t build a custom house for that. Look at the $55,000 as sort of a shell with a few basic innards. Then start adding the personalizing touches. If you don’t plan to add at least $10,000 worth of custom features it’s not worth the effort. So figure about $65,000 as the minimum cost of a small custom house and go from there. But forget square footage calculations – they’re meaningless in custom construction.

As far as some of the favorite features are concerned, a sauna will run $1,200 to $1,400. Jacuzzi whirlpools cost from $900 for the basic five-footer to $4,000 for the 8’ X 8’ family model.

It will cost you about $7,500 for the privilege of a daily dip in your own swimming pool. This is for a 13’ x 29’ one piece fiberglass model. The larger custom designed pools are much higher. A bare bones concrete tennis court will run $16,000-$ 18,000 – with lights, $5,000 more. And you’ll need about an acre of ground if you’re going to have room left for your house. The tennis court alone requires 60’ x 120’. Watch out for fence height and setback line restrictions too. Tennis court construction is tricky, so get your architect and tennis court contractor together early in the design stage.

Don’t forget the incidentals that more than likely won’t be part of your deal with the builder. Draperies for a 2,000 square foot house will cost at least $1,500. For a small lot (80’ x 120’), it will run you about $800 to lay in St. Augustine grass solid. You can get bermu-da hydro-mulched for $300 if you’ll do your own tilling, leveling and clearing. Landscaping will run from $200 for the patient to thousands to lay in mature plants. A chain link fence for a small backyard will run about $450, redwood or cedar, $900. Closing costs will probably be $500 or more, plus your penalty points.

How to Play the Money Market

For all practical purposes, the only money game in town for custom home designers is the conventional market. Though rates vary a little from month to month, and from lender to lender, the changes are becoming less discernible all the time. Interest rates have gone high and are staying high. Expect to find something like this:

“P.M.I.” is private mortgage insurance, which to you is an extra of 1 percent that you have to pay for the life of the loan. “One point” is 1 percent of the mortgage amount ($500 on a $50,000 mortgage), a one time charge payable for the privilege of securing the already exorbitant loan.

Some builders have “ins” with lenders and can help you get a loan when money is tight. In a tight market, the builder, the location, your income, and the amount of down payment you can scrape up will be determinants.

The Custom Built Home asan Investment

If you build something in the right place with appeal which can conveniently accommodate America’s typical four-person family, you have a blue chip. Ten years ago, a 3,000 square foot house in Piano cost about $35,000. The typical down payment was 10 percent. Today this house is worth at least $70,000. So, the $3,500 down payment cash investment has grown to $38,500 without even considering the equity buildup, or the tax and interest deductions. Thirty-five hundred dollars in a savings account at 7 percent for 10 years would now be worth only a little more than $7,000. The key is the leverage.

Suppose the rate of inflation slackens and the cost of housing slows to a 5 percent annual increase. Five percent on a $100,000 house is $5,000 per year. But if you paid 20 percent down, this amounts to 25 percent a year on your $20,000 cash investment. What could be more American than your own home, designed with your own sweat, returning 25 percent a year on your original investment?

Ten Questions to AskYourself Before Custom Building.

1. Do you really know what you want? Unless you’re sure, you’re about to go to a lot of trouble for nothing. It’s much simpler just to go out and buy a house that you won’t be happy with either.

2. Have you thoroughly explored theexisting market to ensure that it’sabsolutely necessary to design yourown home? Even the local speculativebuilders are beginning to show a littleimagination. A weekend tour might surprise you.

3. Is what you have in mind reallyunique, or is it so outlandish that nolender will support you? And even ifyou can con a lender, will anybody buyit if you get transferred?

4. Can you line up a team of expertsthat will work well together – architect or designer, builder and lender? Dissension means delay – delaymeans dollars.

5. Will you be available during construction? You’ll need to take a look practically every day or it will get away from you.

6. Can you afford it? And even if you can at the outset, can you stick to your budget?

7. Is your “good taste” firmly established among your peers? Even though it looks good to you, you don’t want to be the inspiration for “it looks like. . .” jokes.

8. Is your grand idea adaptable to future family needs and demands?Cliffside dwellings lose their appeal when Junior comes along and starts crawling near your spiral staircase.

9. Do you plan to occupy the housefor a substantial period of time? You’ll have gone to a lot of trouble, you know. You need to sort of “amortize” the pain.

10. Do you have the patience andmental stamina to see it through? There will be delays and rumors of delays, change orders and cost overruns. Some dreams take forever.

Designing the Shock out ofYour Electric Bill

Designing a house today without regard to energy conservation makes as much sense as building in the middle of a projected reservoir, whai will tomorrow bring? Will our $100 electric bills be $500? Will we be rationed, limited to baked potatoes on even days of the month, and Kojak every other week? Whatever the scenario, the owner of the energy-efficient house will have a big edge on his neighbors.

The efforts of speculative builders to offer energy saving features are hampered by the ever present cost per square foot competition. Besides, they want to sell the house, not live in it. (Though some, like Centennial, have seen the promotional advantages of advertising a house that uses 42 percent less energy.) Your custom home is personal, and what could be more personal than a lifetime of affordable electric bills?

The secret is to make your house tight. Here’s how to do it, along with a few other energy saving design tips:

1. Walls. Although some builders wouldcringe at the thought of using any wallstuds other than two-by-fours, othershave discovered that two-by-sixes, atwider intervals, work nicely. Result:more room for wall insulation. One inchstyrofoam sheets help too.

2. Ceiling. Twelve inches of batted ceiling insulation instead of the usualblown-in six or eight. Also install a thermostatically controlled attic fan to expelthe air when it gets too hot.

3. Windows and doors. Don’t putthem where they’re not needed. Useonly twin-paned insulated glass windows. Caulk inside and out and useheavy duty weather-stripping.

4. Heating and cooling equipment.The most efficient systems are the heatpumps. In the summer it’s an air conditioner, expelling indoor heat. Wintercomes and, SHAZAM, it turns into aheater, somehow finding solar heat outside and bringing it in. Whatever system you install, get your ducts in a row- put them in the conditioned area rather than the garage or attic. Otherwise much energy is lost before it ever gets into the house.

5. Slab. Insulate with polyurethane.

6. Shade. Giant oaks would be nice, butif not available try a two foot (or wider)roof overhang, not more than eightinches above the windows.

Do all of this and you can expect to reduce your utility bills by 40 or 50 percent. And the extra construction cost is not that much, if you can find a builder who dares to be different, like Bob Fel-ton. “I won’t build a house anymore that’s not energy efficient,” he says. He is one of the few Dallas builders who have converted to 6-inch wall studs. He also double-panels all his windows and uses 12 inches of attic insulation. “1 don’t use heat pumps because I’m not convinced yet that they’re ideally suited to Dallas weather. But I’ve run it through the computer and I’ve got it down to where my houses use 45 percent less energy.

“I build contemporaries,” Bob says. “When you have 25-foot ceilings and glass all around you have to compensate. And it’s.really just a matter of time till our building codes will require all of this anyway.”

Where Lots Are Availablefor the Construction ofHomes Costing $65,000 orMore

According to the following figures furnished by Karen McCammon of MPF Research, Inc., a Dallas-based real estate-oriented market research firm, most of the custom home action is still northward. The Lake Ray Hubbard influence is being felt, however, as evidenced by the activity in West Rock-wall, South Garland and Rowlett. Here is where lots for homes costing $65,000 or more are either available or soon to come on stream:

Location Number of Lots

Plano/Allen/South Collin County 1,779

Far North Dallas 668

West Rockwall 663

South Garland/Rowlett 511

North Dallas 469

Carrollton/ Farmers Branch 321

Lewisville/Southeast Denton County 308

DeSoto/Duncanville/Cedar Hill 281

Richardson 257

Near North Dallas 109

Southwest/South/Southeast Dallas 71

Northwest Dallas 46

North Garland 42

Grand Prairie 40

Lancaster 37

Irving 17

Mesquite / Sunnyvale 8

Want a Ten Year Warrant

Here’s H.O.W.

For years it has been the practice among local builders to offer only a one year warranty on new houses – often not even in writing. While a year may be long enough on a Sunbeam blender or a Weedeater, it’s really less than ample on a piece of work that your friendly lender hopes will last at least 30 years. Hoping to stave off congressional intervention, the National Association of Home Builders established the Home Owners Warranty program (H.O.W.), which offers ten year warranties rather than the abbreviated variety.

Here’s how H.O.W. works:

1. During the first year the builderfurnishes the standard warranty againstany defects caused by faulty workman-ship or defective materials.

2. During the second year, the buildercontinues to warrant against defects inwiring, piping and duct work in theplumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems. The warranty also continues to cover major construction defects.

3. After two years the builder drops out of the picture. The American Bankers Insurance Co. of Florida, which underwrites the H.O.W. program, then warrants for the next eight years against major construction defects, such as a cracked foundation, faulty beams and defective roof construction.

Even during the first year H.O.W. has substantial advantages over the standard one year builder’s warranty. To begin with, to participate in the H.O.W. program, the builder has to agree to construct your house to comply with certain minimum industry standards. Then if he refuses to satisfy a legitimate gripe, you don’t have to go to court. Present your complaint to the local H.O.W. Council. (Dallas has one now.) They will appoint a conciliator to referee the dispute. If this fails you can appeal to the American Arbitration Association, which will render a decision binding on you and the builder. If the decision is in your favor and the builder refuses to comply, the insurance company will repair the defect and the builder will be expelled from the program.

If your builder goes broke (not unheard of in the construction business) or decides he would rather sell hot tamales in the French Quarter, you can submit your claim directly to the local H.O.W. Council for referral to the insurance company.

The builder pays for the H.O.W. policy, but this is merely a technicality. He’ll pass the cost on to you just like he does the cost of a two-by-four. But it’s cheap – a $100 one time cost on a $50,000 house. And unlike your title insurance policy, it’s transferrable to the new owner if you sell during the 10 years.

The H.O.W. program is just getting underway in Dallas. Ask your prospective builder whether or not he is a member, or if you’re shopping for a builder call the Dallas H.O.W. Council at 631-4840.


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