Tag Archives: Home Building

The Deck Turns Green? Oh No!

At our old houseOne of the questionable and most pricey features of our house will be the decking – front and back porches. My husband really wants an enjoyable outdoor space for our family – complete with a fireplace, screened porch and cozy chairs. Sounds perfect to me! Just add lemonade! The question, what type of decking material shall we use? When we first started this process two years ago, I remember the only thing I really wanted was plastic lumber decking – it would last forever, be maintenance-free and it’s made from recycled milk jugs and laundry bottles! What could be better? I even promote plastic decking during my “recycling presentations” at work. Growing up in Virginia, having to stain our wood deck just about every year and then get a splinter in my foot every few weeks, I just knew that I didn’t want wood.

Well, most recently, I’ve heard stories about mold issues coming from the plastic lumber decking (also called composite decking). I did some research and learned that you do have to take care of the decking. What? Oh man – something more to add to the list. I guess nothing is truly maintenance-free in a home. But then again, who wants a moldy, mildewy deck? uhh….nobody!

Read the fine print because composite decking is not “maintenance free” but “low maintenance.” That is a difference! While it is true that you don’t have to paint, stain or sand the deck, you do have to wash it twice a year. Ok, I can handle washing, but unfortunately with mold – it will be hard to kill without harsh chemicals. One of the major manufacturers of composite decking is Trex, which makes decking material out of HDPE plastic from recycled laundry bottles, etc. Sounds positive, right?? However, Trex has been involved in some consumer lawsuits, including one with Hagens-Berman that involves a Washington state homeowner and the Trex product warranty. The one before this was a class-action lawsuit that Trex addresses on its website. One of the major flaws of the product is the entrapment of moisture that causes a terrible mold issue. I am no expert on mold, but I do know that any mold is bad mold. Trex and most other composite decking material may contain up to 50% wood fiber, which makes it susceptible to mold, mildew and insects.

According to the Trex website on technical information: ‘Trex is no exception. Periodic cleaning of Trex decking will remove dirt and pollen that can feed mold. If mold colonies appear, clean the deck with a commercial deck wash containing a detergent and sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach. This chemical will remove the mold, but please be aware it will also lighten the wood on the surface.”

I don’t know about you, but I personally do not want to wash my desk using bleach! The deck is outside and washing it with bleach would only drip and leak to the ground below….???? Right…how green is that? Let’s build a $10,000 deck using recycled milk jugs, save space in the landfill, but kill plant life and harm groundwater resources along the way! Yikes! This is not for me.

So we found some alternatives to the treated wood and to the plastic decking, which we will call Semi-Green Deck Choices, which I found to claim to be better  for these environmental and maintenance issues:

1)      CorrectDeck – the name suggests someone else did it wrong first (cough cough….Trex?) and on their website they claim, “enhanced anti-microbial protection that adds resistance to mold and mildew for ultra-low maintenance.” Well at least its not just low maintenance, it’s ultra-low. Can anyone define that?

2)      Ipe Wood – it comes from Brazil and is considered to be one of the tallest trees in the Amazon. How is it green? Ipe Wood is considered to be eco-friendly lumber because it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and they monitor the process of how lumber is cultivated and harvested.

3)      TerraTec Natural from McFarland – using rice hulls and recycled plastic. According to this company, rice hulls are naturally resistant to mold, mildew and insects. Sounds great, but this company is in Washington state and won’t ship a sample to South Carolina. Besides, I haven’t seen this product available at our local stores. I’d like to stay local.

4)      Concrete – According to the Cement Association website on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, concrete is very green. The five ways that concrete is green include: 1) creates sustainable sites, 2) enhances energy performance, 3) contains recycled materials, 4) manufactured locally, and 5) builds durable structures. Also, it is ultra-low-maintenance!

5)   Cascade Replast – Permadeck – Product boats maximum durability, no painting, and no staining. The Canadian website claims it is made from 100% plastic and the New Zealand website claims it is made from both plastic and wood fibers. Which is right? I don’t know! Again, it says that it is relatively maintenance-free that it requires regular cleaning with household cleaners. Regarding mold, the NZ website says, “PERMADECK™ is generally quite resistant to mould, however if it doesn’t have sufficient ventilation or there are areas where pollen can collect and doesn’t get exposure to sun, mould may appear. Mould and mildew may grow on the deck in some circumstances, especially in damp shaded areas, or if it ‘sweats’ under the plastic cover (especially in rain) before installation. Failure to keep packs dry in storage can lead to the growth of mould spores on boards. Clean as per directions under ‘Care and maintenance’.”

So far, we’ve decided to go with concrete for the sustainable reasons, the maintenance reasons and the cost reasons! Just like most people, I am not a fan of cleaning. Less is better for me, so if all I have to do is sweep and/or pressure wash, concrete is the winner for us.

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To Be EFL Green

According to our green builder, our new house will be “Certified Green” under the EFL Program!

logo_EFLThe Environments for Living (EFL) program was nationally launched in 2001 to support builders in applying building science and energy-efficient construction practices in the field. Most homebuyers care about operating costs and resale value, but we are also concerned about our environmental impact. The EFL Program looks at the following four categories to make it Certified Green.

1) Energy-Efficiency:

  • Tight construction
  • Improved thermal systems
  • Right-Sized HVAC
  • Low-E Windows
  • Energy-Efficient Lighting
  • Energy-Efficient Appliances

2) Indoor Environmental Quality

  • Fresh Air Ventilation
  • Internal Moisture Management
  • Air Pressure Balancing
  • Combustion Safety
  • Enhanced Filtration System
  • Low VOC Paints
  • Carpet
  • Cabinetry

3) Durability

4) Water Efficiency

  • Low-Flow Faucets
  • Low-Flow Showerheads
  • High-Efficiency Dishwashers
  • High-Efficiency Toilets

Most of these standards are met by builders, but the program adds a certification to the home, which helps in value and efficiency discounts. In addition to the EFL Program, we will be saving money through the electric company in having a Certified Green home.

Getting Green Ideas – Roadtrip!

It was a beautiful fall weekend for a roadtrip with my husband.  We took a trip to visit the Coastal Living Idea House in Southport, NC to get some ideas for our new house.

Coastal Living Idea House 2009

Each year, the Coastal Living Magazine constructs a coastal community house that shares the best in innovation, décor and construction (according to their website). The 2009 Idea House is an original Cape design by Guidry-Coastal Architecture and built by Mark Saunders Luxury Homes in Seawatch. Apparently it is for sale for just $1.2 million, not including the furnishings. Anyone ready to bite on that one? Don’t all raise your hands at once!

Inside the house

Overall, the house was stunning with three floors of rooms, including a unique sleeping porch and a bunkbed hallway. Walking through the lavish house the first time definitely was jaw-dropping. We had to wear those cute blue shoe covers, which was not the easiest with flip-flops.

Blue footies!

Once inside, the entryway was mainly staircases, one up and one down. We started on the main floor, checked out the house bathroom and then on to the laundry room, which smartly connected to the master closet. That is a great idea! I should think about that one! Then through the closet to the master bath and to the master bedroom. The master bedroom was strangely decorated, but impressive.

Master Bedroom

We next went through the main living room, the back decks, the dining room and eventually the kitchen. Interestingly, the kitchen did not have lower cabinets, but it was all drawers – hundreds of them. I don’t think I have enough pots and pans to fill two drawers! One interesting design note was that the lower drawers were a different color than the cabinets above. The kitchen also had an adjorning pantry that was probably the size of my master bathroom! Lots of room for the cereal.

Kitchen

Huge Pantry!

Next we ventured upstairs to the collection of beds. Every room upstairs, including the hallway, had a bed. There were two sets of bunkbeds, a guest bedroom, a sleeping loft with room for four, and another guest bedroom. I think this house could sleep about 12-14 people or more! Talk about a massive sleepover.

The Sleeping Loft

After taking a quick nap upstairs, we made our way downstairs to the recreation room and the enormous garage. They had space for a wine cellar, but they said it was turn into an office instead. Why they bothered to tell us this fact, I don’t know. Of course, I’d rather have a wine cellar for all of my two buck chuck! Then we went outside to see the grill….oh, it’s called the “outdoor kitchen” – and it was a perfect party setting.

Outdoor space

Despite the gorgeous exterior, I was not very fond of the interior because it felt dark, cold and vacant. Just to give you an idea, the names of the paint colors included: prudence, summer gray, muted ebony, almost charcoal, and mountain smoke. There were only a couple of bright rooms that used classic lilac and an orange color called suede. The house was almost disjointed because some rooms felt warm, rustic and cozy (such as the sleeping loft), while other rooms felt cold, modern and rigid (such as the living room).

Living Room

There were several high-priced features that stood out, which included: painted color trim (not white), seagrass flooring, fabric walls, and heated tile floors. None of which we plan to do because we simply didn’t like those features. I also have a toddler and I don’t feel like cleaning the fabric walls from crayon marks.

For example, while seagrass floors are considered eco-friendly because they are durable and from a renewable source, they tend to have a distinct sea odor. Just about every room in the Idea House had seagrass floors and I felt that we walked into the swamp each time. Since this type of flooring is newer to the market, I’m not sure if the odor fades in time. The flooring also come from Southeast Asia, which means they have to be imported and I don’t really consider that green.

Seagrass Flooring

We did leave with a few ideas for our own house. We liked the built-in cabinet around the fireplace that hid the TV. One of the house volunteers also suggested adding drawers to that cabinet to store DVDs and remotes.

Fireplace idea

Fireplace that hides a TV!

We liked the backyard a lot with the setting of the marsh and the man-made babbling brook feature. The walkways surrounding the house were nice because they had flat rocks with small pebbles in between, so water doesn’t get trapped and run-off.

Backyard Water Feature

We also liked the screened porch that had the outdoor curtains. It was a low-key, but fancy feature that was useful for privacy!

Screened Porch with Outdoor Curtains

We spent over two hours at the house, talking about our dream house and getting more excited.

Us

Green with Envy

We have fallen in love!  In this economy, we are keeping all options open.  Just in case building is not the right decision for our finances, we would buy a house.  So we went house-hunting. We saw four properties: one that had construction problems, one that was not the right fit, one we could live with and one that we fell in love with.

The house that we love is probably exactly everything we could ask for in our dream house. It definitely has a “WOW” factor in every room, we wouldn’t have to change a thing. It is the perfect color (green), the perfect setting (under Live Oak trees), the perfect layout (almost), the perfect finishes (wood, tile, fixtures, ceilings), but NOT the perfect size. Actually it is massive for us! This house is about 2700 heated square feet and about 4000 total square feet!

My hubby and I had a heart-to-heart discussion about this house. We listed the pros and the cons. We probably could afford the monthly mortgage, but I worry that it is too much house – in utility bills, cleaning, maintenance, etc. I’d worry that we would stretch ourselves too thin and wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything else. It is also far from our work and Peyton would go to a different school district. This house also would require maintenance in the next few years – painting the siding, a new roof, etc.

Then we thought about what our builder told us.  Start with the smallest home possible and grow from there in your plans. Basically, start with only what you need. The biggest the house, the bigger the bills in the future.

I believe that seeing this house reassured us that building may be our best choice. When you build, you get exactly what you want and how you want it.

Building Green Steps

My blood runs green. I remember always falling in love with animals and the outdoors when I was little. All those elementary school field trips to the nature center were my favorite days. However, I have to confess that I didn’t officially start recycling or being aware of my impact before I got my ‘green’ job. As a county recycling coordinator, it is my job to educate the public about waste reduction and recycling. Most of days are dedicated to guiding tours around the landfill and the recycling facility. I ride a lot of school bus around trash and I have to admit, I love it!

My investment in my career has pushed me into the next phase of my life and my family’s life. My green blood has affected my husband and my daughter into living the green life with me. We do all the basics: recycling, avoiding Styrofoam (except for Chick-fil-a sweet tea), donating and repairing things, and buying less products. But now, we are in a position to build a home. Of course, it is going to be GREEN.

My husband and I have spent hours on the internet researching green features and watching several shows on HGTV and Planet Green. We have a Green Wish List for our new home.

Green Wish List:

  • Metal Roof
  • Grey Water Filtration System
  • Tankless Water Heater OR Geothermal System
  • Solar Panel
  • Recycled Composite Decking
  • Energy Efficient Insulation
  • Items from Salvage Stores (front door, interior doors, light fixtures, cabinet knobs)
  • Low-Flow Toilets and Showerheads
  • Low VOC paint
  • Energy Efficient Appliances
  • Drought-resistant landscaping
  • Rain water collection

With all these features in mind, we also have to consider our budget. Some features are just not realistic in this economy, but we will be trying our best to get some of these.

House Plan

Shopping for the construction loan

We have been slowly processing through shopping for a construction loan. I have talked with multiple banks during the process and its been pretty difficult to find something that works for us. A close friend was talking with me about our difficulties and he was fairly shocked that we were having problems, but that is just how the economy and the financial mess has affected those of us who have done things the right way. My friend’s point, and I think its a valid one, is that we are a dual-income family with stable, steady jobs; pretty great (maybe not fantastic, above 700) credit scores; a decade long track record of paying mortgages;  significant equity with the land we want to build on — and that’s just not enough for the national banks. Its pretty mind boggling. In a time when banks are unsure of who to loan money to (although they’ve accepted bailout money and have been told to loan), we — a family who has tried to do everything the right way — can’t get a leg up.

You’ll notice that I’m talking about the national banks – the ones who run their construction to perm loans through third parties.  Those third parties have imposed insane rules on families wanting to construct new homes – such as needing 30% in equity or down payment to build.   Most that I’ve talked to – BB&T, Wells Fargo and more locally First Citizens of SC – can only loan up to 70% of the value.  Wells Fargo was the only one who said anything about possibly getting 75% of the value in the construction loan, but only for the best qualifiers.

As a side note, USAA — a company I’ve written a lot about, and a company I really do still admire — doesn’t do construction loans and they never have offered them that I am aware of.  I’m not knocking them.  And I’m not knocking national banks – I have tended to use them more because I felt like I could get better service through branches in my home town and where I currently live.  We had banked with BB&T because they also had branches in Virginia, where Jen’s parents live.  But when it comes to this, the services they are offering just aren’t what we need.

Getting Local
I’d like to do my part to stimulate my local economy by employing some out of work contractors and trades workers to build a house for me, but after all the stimulus money and all of the bailouts, I’m finding no one who will help me undertake a fairly normal business transaction.  I have two other friends who contracted their own homes last year – 2008 – and both were able to get upwards of 100% financing.  Today, the best that the nationals can do is 70%.

Enter local banks…  Banks owned, operated and administered right here in Horry County.  I met with one of our local banks yesterday and by far, they had the best offer available for us.  They were also more flexible than the nationals.  This particular bank would loan up to 80% of the value of the entire project (including our land equity).   It may not sound like much, but 5% or 10% is a huge difference when looking at home construction.

I have had the sinking feeling since all this financial mess broke (no pun intended) that we were going to see a ton of localization occurring, and that is what I think is happening.  I think we have a shift from big business, big finance back to local, small business as a driver for growth, even on the financial side.  Who better than your local bank has a pulse on what the community needs?  These people live here with you and the board members making decisions on these banks are your neighbors, too.  And these banks seem to have a much greater desire to help out not only the borrower but the workers who’d directly benefit from a project like this.  And there isn’t shortage in my area – we’ve had many new banks open locally in the past decade – many of which I’ve passed over.

I work for a cooperative and from the beginning its been a business about meeting local needs — bringing telephone (and now other services) to areas that the big boys wouldn’t serve because of cost.  It is a community minded business and the decision makers live in the same community with all of the people that we serve.   I’m glad to find a bank with the same mindset.

We are not finished searching for our options.  There are several more banks to talk with, but I do feel more positive after my meeting yesterday.  At least now, I have narrowed my focus to the locals.  As my co-worker, David, told me the other day – “Dude, you’ve been here for a decade.  You’re a local now.”

Hurdles cleared, now we begin making new plans

Over the past few weeks, we have been busily making plans since accepting our offer.  We have been looking at rentals and trying to make plans about where we go next and what we do next.  All of those plans have been tentative, at best, since we were waiting for the home inspection, the appraisal and other reports to come in on our current house.

We have finished the home inspection, which as we expected, turned up only a few minor items.  Many of those items are repaired already and all of those should be addressed by end of next week.

The appraiser has been onsite, and we have not heard anything from the buyer’s side, so we assume that all is well with the appraisal.

So, that brings us to new plans.  We have located a rental thanks to a co-worker at HTC and  we are looking to taking possession of it around first of next month and begin the moving process.

Now, all that we see left is just setting the closing date, which we hope will be sooner than later.  Jen and I are ready to begin plans on our new chapter in life and get things rolling with a builder and bank.  We are shopping for a financing package, and those are seemingly difficult in today’s economy.  So, with each hurdle we clear, new ones form on the horizon.  This is going to be a long process, I’m sure, but I think we are up to the challenge.