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How does Pretty Good sound?

Would a "pretty good" house be good enough to earn your money? How would you feel about buying or building a "pretty good house"? That's the code standard, a Pretty Good House (PGH), would be just north of Code Minimum.

Think I'm kidding? Serious industry thinkers wonder whether PGH should be a certification or standard, like LEED,  net zero, etc. to inform consumers about what they're buying. For those who don't know, building TO code is a minimum legal standard of structural integrity, performance and safety. PGH would be just above that lowest bar. Sound appealing in exchange for your hundreds of thousands?

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How noticeable is Universal Design?

Done right, it isn't. In other words, slapping a wooden ramp on the side of a house isn't technically Universal Design (more like an accident waiting to happen). You don't notice universally designed elements of a home until you're either enjoying or rely on them.

This project portfolio on Houzz represents a fine example of a few points I make regularly about Universal Design (UD). Now that more people are becoming aware of UD, traditional misconceptions come up that it is "ADA" or "will make my house look like a hospital". UD is for anyone, it's kid-friendly and, despite an obvious solution, not only for "aging-in-place" (A phrase we dislike). UD is a solution for enabling "aging" in one's home, or barrier-free living, but suited for anyone who prefers convenience and ease.

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How cool is this?

LIFX reinvents the light bulb                                                                                                                             

Image courtesy LIFX

Our industry is innovating everything from insulation to lighting and wood screws. Construction and design are experiencing a renaissance of new products, applications and methods and I'll share what we're discovering as we scout and research for our clients.

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Introducing BuilderFish Cam

BuilderFish TV is live. Check out our BuilderFish Cam at Castlebrook Farm estate.

The BuilderFish Cam is live. View and manipulate the camera for our Castlebrook Farm project at BuilderFish.TV.

Here are a few basic user tips and I believe you can figure out the rest. Email me if you have questions and I'll describe more advanced features later (after I learn them myself-ha).

There are two primary tabs, Control Panorama and Control Camera. The panorama shot is compiled once daily after the camera completes an entire sweep, its software automatically stitches together all the shots throughout a 360 degree pan.

Control Camera is closer to real time and also takes time lapse photos. Control Camera is fixed to show the main house site. You move the camera by first clicking the plus (+) button and increasing the zoom. You'll notice the directional arrows light up after you begin zooming. This will make more sense once you see the building construction as you'll be able to zoom into parts of the home you want to see more closely. Right now it's zoomed all the way out.

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How would you rate the QUALITY of your house?

Did you get your monies worth in quality and workmanship? (And when was the last time you saw a big builder promote the craftsmanship of its new construction?)

At one time the house above was brand spanking new and the owners beamed. Obviously time takes a toll on everything but how long will your house last relative to how long you plan to stay?

These may seem like dumb questions. I'm certain you at least care, maybe even worry, about maintaining and paying for your residence. But I wonder more deeply about what I presume most people rarely consider. Is your current home just a roof over your head or do you intend to never leave? In any case, are some parts of your home a hassle to use or maintain? How will you adjust or rectify, or will you make due in some way you haven't yet figured out?

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Why do you cost more?

Wish we had a dollar for every time we're asked, "Why are you expensive?" Answer: quality, the best or nothing, we refuse to do anything inexactly. The time, labor and top shelf materials required to do excellent work costs money. True craftsmanship isn't cheap, there are no "good deals", you're not buying a can of corn.

If you don't read another sentence, understand that, more than most industries in which you get what you pay for, most often you get LESS THAN what you pay for in construction because companies squeeze profit margins to win business and then take shortcuts racing to completion within a cost intensive industry (e.g. labor, materials, equipment, company overhead). We go against the grain because we don't want to build slop that falls apart inside of seven years.

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Thumbs up for Wind

We've cleared the first hurdle. We have ideal wind conditions for powering a new home to be built in Madison County in Central Virginia. Next hurdle, we're going before the Madison Planning Commission seeking a special use permit to operate a wind turbine and erect a 100-foot tower on the property. We're blazing a trail for all Madison residents to explore this natural energy alternative if their wind conditions suit.

If you're wondering, that thing atop the pole is an anemometer, used to measure wind direction, speed and pressure

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How we charge for our work

You see what we see. Transparency is integral to The BF Way, particularly in our pricing. We'll show you every invoice of project costs if you wish to review, just be aware (or beware ;>) this will be hundreds of pages, but you're paying the bills so you're entitled to see them.

You pay what we pay plus a margin that covers your project costs (e.g. research, logistics, management, etc.) and a contribution to our company profit. Schedule of Values is also known as progress billing, "open book" or cost-plus. Bottom line, unless someone works for free or invents a new and better way, project pricing cannot be any more transparent. You're billed, review all invoices and pay as work progresses. We shepherd so you stay within budget. Change orders should be an exception, and only for upgrades or additions not included in the original scope.

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Integrated Project Delivery

From the moment we begin, we adamantly adhere to a total team effort, known as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), technical jargon for collaboration.

We call it "The BF Way", from start to finish we partner with you and everyone including vendors and trades with but one goal, your satisfaction of our standard for top quality and meticulous performance.

For example, the architect doesn't simply produce blue prints and say, "Here ya go, have a nice day." The architect (and maybe a designer too if not the same person) fly alongside us and you during design and throughout construction too.

The IPD method encourages and holds accountable the design, engineering and construction teams; surprises are rare with everyone starting and working from the same page as the project progresses to completion. Put another way, we do NOT start unless everyone understands the plan, and we take a timeout if someone isn't 100% clear.

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Exactly HOW Windy?

Fishbecks_anemometer_test

How windy must it be to generate enough electricity to power a house? We're testing to find out.

We're helping a client measure the prevailing wind at their property to determine if they have ideal conditions for generating power. Just because a location feels windy 24/7 doesn't mean it has the right kind of wind consistently sufficient to generate enough electricity to meet demand. The current VA wind map shows their location in Madison, VA is marginal.
 
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A Nation of Old Homes

70s_house

Seen this house? Like me, you might've grown up in one, or now come home to it daily.
 
Did you know that well over half of our nation's houses were built more than three decades ago? With a median (i.e. halfway point) year built of 1974, the vast majority of our nation's residential houses are functionally obsolete and you are chucking money putting lipstick on a pig if you do anything short of a total gut and retrofit of an existing house. Building science has in fact changed that much in the last five years.
 
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Epic Fail at Zero Steps

Epic Fail at Zero Steps

We borrow from baseball in calling this a Blown Save, a missed opportunity to conserve personal effort climbing steps. This house didn't REQUIRE exterior steps but it's got them forever now.

What a missed opportunity. Do you see it? Notice what might've been?

Instead there will be exterior steps to every entrance when, with only a dash of forethought, proactive design and site planning (just moving some dirt!), there could've been no steps and a flush threshold entrance at least at one entrance on the main level, and through the garage too. Instead of hassle-free ease, residents and visitors will climb to a doorway on an essentially flat lot in a new neighborhood of mostly level parcels.
 
Sadly, this same problem was repeated at every single home, and a wheelchair user lives in one of them.
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Why Pre-Construction Protection is Important

Photo_4

After spending thousands of dollars improving your home, do you also want to clean up after the builder? We don't think so, which is why we go the extra mile in treating your brand new home how we'd treat our own. I don't mean to brag but inform about an area that many builders slack off in order to pinch pennies, but you should expect, even demand, extra attention and cleanliness from any contractor working on your house.

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How to build a no step entrance

Ud_lot_prep_sloping

We're on a crusade against unnecessary exterior steps, and most houses have them.
 
How do you eliminate exterior steps to at least one main level entrance? Shortest answer assuming new construction, site work in combination with moving the house up or down. For retrofits, you're limited mostly to moving dirt or finding an alternate entrance (like through a garage, carport, etc).
 
The lay of the land determines your options and, in either case, you simply need to plan. If you're dealing with more than a three foot rise, then it's going to be tough but not necessarily impossible.
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Why Steps to Most Doorways?

Why Steps to Most Doorways?

Why do most houses have steps to the front door? Fact is many shouldn't, certainly not the ones on flat lots. Look at this new house. Notice the lot? I'll add the entire lot to the street is flat, and the house is built on a slab. 

So why that ONE step onto the porch and another to get through the front door? 

Maybe it's necessary when a  house is built atop a crawl space or basement? Nope. For water or bug proofing? Negative. Expense? Ixnay. (Should it cost MORE to build LESS? Actually might be if your builder is headstrong and refuses to do any other way.)
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What is a Peter Pan House?

Peter Pan It's the opposite of a Lifetime Home. "Peter Pan Houses" are designed and constructed as if the occupants never change, and assume an "average person" of a typical height, weight, ability, mobility, vision, hearing, etc. In other words, you have to adapt to the house instead of vice versa. Depending on what life throws your way, you might not be able to stay.

Unfortunately, most houses and neighborhoods built since the Second World War were developed this way, more up than out with narrow passages, sharp corners, and lots of steps inside and out (even on flat lots!).

Thankfully, regardless of your preferred style, houses can be designed and built to proactively emphasize efficiency, convenience, comfort and safety for anyone of any age or ability. A Lifetime Home is flexible and socially sustainable, the antithesis of Peter Pan Housing.

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Subliminal Universal Design

You're probably using Universal Design (UD) without knowing it, which is the way it should be because UD done well isn't noticeable, it's simply better, the preferred and convenient choice.

And of all places I saw during an NFL game a few weeks ago this Delta faucet commercial. (Notice they show kid's hands, not just elderly) Delta promotes their touch and motion activated faucets among their "Smart Solutions" kitchen and bath fixtures. All the major manufacturers now carry a universal line of fixtures, but there's a noticeable difference in the marketing, they don't utter the words "Universal Design" or "Aging-in-Place" (a phrase we can't stand because UD benefits are not only for the aging).

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Lifetime Home Survey

I was on a mission and took six months developing the Lifetime Home Survey (LTHS), which was born of a single negative comment following a post class, feedback form. Without ever knowing his name, I still picture the disgruntled attendee sitting near the front with arms crossed, an engineering type who frowned the entire presentation. I knew I wasn't delivering what he wanted to hear.

His comment? "Didn't give specific measurements!" Jeez, I purposely avoided getting technical to reduce the likelihood of audience slumber; but, after reading Mr. Unhappy's feedback, I vowed, "Metrics you want, measurements thou shall get!"

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Outdoor Living and Gardening Made Easy

Gardening doesn't have to be a chore, you can even have the garden come to you.

People often assume they can no longer do something they enjoy simply because they cannot continue the way they've always done it. Like most things universally designed for the home, your outdoor living areas and activities can be accommodated and inclusive for people of any age or circumstance so nobody should have to give up hobbies and activities which make them happy.

This is particularly true of flower and vegetable gardening. If you've got a deck, patio or yard of any size, you can garden by choosing an efficient and accessible method from numerous options. Before I list some alternatives and resources, let's review the ideal conditions for any outdoor activity.

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Sleep easier in your master bedroom

Where would you sleep if you couldn't access or get around your current master bedroom? How then should you prepare your bedroom (or another "flex room") so that it's truly "livable for a lifetime" and you've got a place to rest your head?

Maybe you've noticed reading this tutorial series that I've focused on convenience and ease by describing universally designed home features from a perspective of ANY-ability and not inability or disability. I've harped that UD = EZ to the greatest extent for ALL people, not just the frail or incapacitated.

Now however, I'll actually be emphasizing disability, namely preparing for the potential of limited mobility or the need for a caregiver in the master bedroom during some point in the resident's life. In other words, how to maintain sleeping in your own bed no matter what.

Now don't go away, keep reading! Some of you are about to leave because you think this doesn't apply to you but I urge you to consider carefully what I'm about to write.
 
What if you were injured in a car accident or suffered a sports injury? Those could happen at any time. Where would you sleep if you couldn't access or get around your current bedroom? I have personal experience and trust me, you don't want to add the stress of reconfiguring your house (or being forced from it altogether!) atop the physical and emotional strain of recuperation. Unfortunately, most wait until fit hits the shan and the family is in crisis; but, that won't be you, right?

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