Smaller homes cost more by Josh Brincko

I’m always trying to figure out what makes construction expensive. I tend to design higher quality small projects. We know quality costs something extra, but smaller doesn’t necessarily make things cheaper though. Small projects have all the same amenities as large projects. For example, a 2 bed, 2 bath, 1000sf home has the same cost for plumbing as a 2 bed, 2 bath, 2000sf home.

Here’s an analogy. Imagine a 12oz can of soda sells for 50¢, and a 24oz can of soda sells for 90¢. Double the soda is a better value, and they actually make a BETTER profit on selling the bigger can of soda. Let’s say 12oz of soda costs 5¢ to create, the 12oz aluminum can costs 5¢ to create, and the pull tab (which has the highest concentration of aluminum) costs 5¢ to create. That’s a total of 15¢ of materials for a 35¢ profit. Profit is 70% (ignoring things like insurance, marketing, etc).

Let’s say 24oz of soda costs double at 10¢ to create, the 24oz aluminum can costs double at 10¢ to create, and the pull tab still costs the same 5¢ to create. That’s a total of 25¢ of materials for a 65¢ profit. Profit is 72% even though you are getting more soda for less money per ounce.

Buildings work very much the same way. When you proportion out the costs of required amenities throughout the square footage of the building, the bigger building is a better value. Items that are the same exact cost on big projects and small projects include things like: surveys, waterline connection, sewer connection, electrical connection, gas connection, driveway, engineering a 10’ beam costs the same as a 20’ beam, drawing a 100sf room costs the same as a 200sf room, mobilization costs for the builder and subcontractors, the sani-can rental, most tool and equipment rentals, etc.

You can see there’s a lot of items that have a fixed cost that is irrelevant to the size of the project. This makes the cost per square foot of small projects get higher while larger projects get lower. A $20,000 waterline connection fee from the city is a big deal for a $400,000 home but not such a big deal for a $4,000,000 home. You get the point? 

I’m sure you will do a good bit of research and find average square footage costs on the internet. These are often very deceiving because they are often based on the past, and construction costs continue to rise over time. Also, they are often based on other locations or averages of locations instead of a place like Seattle that is one of the most expensive places to build with difficult soil and seismic activity requiring expensive foundations. The low supply and high demand doesn’t help either. Lastly the cost per square foot model gets so far out of line when you are proportioning it over a small project (anything under 2000 sq ft). This is partially why remodeling is so expensive (not to mention all the cost associated with protecting an existing house while builders surgically work on it to make the old stuff and new stuff match). It is common for a simple home in Seattle to be built for over $350 per square foot. It is also common for a similar quality, but smaller home or addition with the same amenities to be built for over $600 per square foot or even over $1000 per square foot if the home is even smaller. It is helpful to bear this in mind when doing your preliminary planning. 

How to fire your architect (so you can work with Josh instead) by Josh Brincko

Several times each year, I have been chosen as the “relief pitcher” when someone’s original architect doesn’t work out, so here’s your tutorial on how to fire your architect. This happens usually because: the architect is too busy to care about the project, or they can’t design something the client likes, or they are not willing to do what it takes to get permits approved. I have developed a reputation for being successful in these situations, and I’m often the first suggestion builders offer their clients when the architect the client found doesn’t work out. Builders are in a position where they can really recommend anyone, and they commonly choose me since they find me to be an effective member of the team.

So here’s how to fire your architect (this would also work for firing me, by the way): 

1. Read your architect’s contract. Ensure there are no legal or financial ramifications for terminating. Be smart about it, and terminate at the right time to avoid loss of work, time, and/or money. Don’t terminate until after they have given you the latest work they have developed. Don’t enable the architect to hold the work hostage. Send your contract to Josh to review and offer advice. 

2. Make sure there is an invoice that still needs paid. This is your negotiation point that gives you the upper hand. Be aware of any retainers, and be certain you can get any retainers returned. Consult with Josh for strategy here. I don’t collect a retainer for my design work because I think they show a lack of trust between both parties, and I am confident I will be successful in earning the money by providing a valuable service the client is happy to pay for.

3. Before you break the news to your architect, ask them if you can have the AutoCAD files. Let them know your nephew is trying to learn CAD for a school project, or you just want to have an extra source of file backup. Give the architect a good reason for them to WANT to give you the CAD files. The files are technically the property of the architect usually, and they do not typically have to give them to you. For me, I let others use my files because I think it’s the ethical and most efficient thing to do. There are a lot of architects that will not let go of their files though. If you can get these CAD files, it will make my job MUCH easier when I take over as your architect. Also ask for the 3D model files if the architect has done any 3D work. Tell the architect you are trying to learn Sketchup, and they will likely be impressed by your diligence and give them to you.

4. If you cannot get the CAD files, at least get the most recent PDF files, and insist that the architect adds dimensions to them (if they are not already on there) since I will need to redraw everything that has been done up to that point. Also ensure you get the documents from consultants such as survey, geotech, structural, and civil engineers. 

5. Compile all of your files onto an email or thumb drive to give to Josh. Be sure you include everything such as drawings, permit forms, and any other documentation created for your project. Josh needs to somehow figure out where you left off without repeating work that was already done. Keeping the files concise and organized will make this job easier. For example, combine all of your permit documents into one PDF file named “permit documents” instead of giving Josh 59 randomly named files that he will need to open, analyse, understand, and determine what to do with them. Make the hand off easy by naming the files and combining similar items. I once had someone send me hundreds of image files. Some were drawings, and some were inspiration images. I needed to open each one individually to determine what to do with them. All of those inspiration images could have been combined into one file.  

6. Once you get the files, you should pay the architect for the work they did. If they did work you requested, you should pay for it - even if you don’t like the work. It will still be useful work moving forward because design is a process of elimination of sorts.  

7. Now it’s time to fire your architect. If you’re not comfortable doing this, just tell them you won’t be moving forward with the project - that way they won’t take it personally (if that bothers you).  

8. If you did inform your architect that she or he is fired, let them know that you have already started working with someone else, and give them some constructive criticism so they can improve.  

I hope you find this helpful, and I hope you don’t use this tutorial on me:) 

Heather by Josh Brincko


Heather is a silent but loudly helpful voice in the background of Josh Architects. Heather hears all of the tricky planning situations that Josh encounters, and she always offers sound advice. She is the wife of Josh, and she also came up with the idea to start the company. 

Long ago, Josh ran his company as, International Studio, which started back in 2004. Josh has an interest in the “international style” due to its simplicity (and it actually has a lack of style). It works anywhere in the world and is timeless. By working with what you have, the solution is innately born without any added useless decoration. International Studio was named after this concept, but it was also a name that appeared to be a larger brand that could appeal nationally and beyond. This enabled Josh to focus on his interest in furniture design and appeal to manufacturers around the world. After a few years of chasing this dream, it was realized that there were more architecture commissions coming in than furniture ones, and designing furniture was not necessarily the goal. Josh really just liked furniture design because it was fast. You can design something and see it built in the same day if desired. What Josh really likes is designing, and furniture design was just a way of designing more frequently. As more and more architecture commissions came in, Josh also realized the furniture design industry was a broken system, and he found that he was actually getting his fair share of design opportunities with architecture alone. 

This is where Heather stepped in. She is a brilliant advisor with a keen sense of marketing in our digital world. She studied journalism and mastered in digital marketing, she worked at Microsoft, Real Networks, and Disney/ABC, and she is now a prolific artist and respected photographer. She recognized that Josh’s work appealed to people in his community because they appreciate his personal interest in their design problems, he offers a high level of personal care in his service, and he is truly an expert in designing homes in the Pacific Northwest. She pitched the idea to him. She told him, “you are not a corporate architect. You are an artisan architect. You need to sell you - not some company.” That is where Josh Architects was born. The official business name is Josh PS. Architects are considered professional service providers like doctors, lawyers, and accountants, so we have to put PS after our business name instead of inc like other businesses. So technically, the business name is just “Josh”. 

Heather played a pivotal role in helping Josh succeed since his brain is so buried in the craft of designing homes. She was thankfully able to see the bigger picture and put it into action. She setup the website, she crafted the story, she took all of the photographs of the work samples and headshots, and she curated the video on the website. We owe this whole image to Heather. It’s not really an image. It is real. It is who Josh really is. It is his passion, and he owes it to Heather for helping him see it. 

-Written by Josh in the third person (since it sounded confusing to me in the first person). Thank you, Heather! Much love! 

Can I reuse my old windows? by Josh Brincko

You can, but... 

Here’s the thing. Old windows do not meet energy code. When you install a window, whether it’s in a new window opening or an existing one, that new window must be compliant with the minimum insulation values dictated by the current edition of the energy code.  Your old windows likely do not meet the requirements of the energy code since the energy code is updated every three years to require windows to be more energy efficient.  

Additionally old windows must be removed in order to be reused. The process of removing the window is really not that hard. A laborer could remove a window in 15 to 30 minutes. This assumes the laborer does not need to take any precaution to try not to damage the window during removal. If the laborer is supposed to maintain the quality of the window during its demolition, the process of removing that window will simply take longer. The laborer will need to ensure the window is more surgically removed to prevent any scratches, breaks, cracks, or any other defect from occurring during a demolition process that is typically not a very eloquent process. Once the window is removed, it would also need to be rehabilitated. This means the laborer would have to spend time scraping caulking and other adhesives off of the window frame to ensure it is clean and ready for re-installation later. The laborer would also need to make any repairs to the window to fix any inadvertent damage that may have happened during the removal.  This prepping and repair will certainly take a good amount of time. I would estimate at least around four hours of time would be spent just to get the window ready for re-installation. Once the window is ready for re-installation, then it needs to have a strategy to make installation possible. New windows have more efficient hardware known as flanges that enable them to be installed more easily than older windows. Since older windows do not have a nail flange, they must be installed with a different method that involves shimming and caulking that also takes more time and results in a less watertight outcome. The installation of a new window, with its nail flange, is a quick and easy process. It usually takes half the time of an install of an old window. It also gives you a more watertight seal. With all things considered, it takes much longer to deal with the removal, prep, and installation of old windows when trying to reuse them. New windows simply take less time to install and result in a better outcome.  And they actually look like new windows because they are new windows. The cost of purchasing the new window is typically easily offset by all the additional costs that it takes to attempt to reinstall old windows. Using new windows is a much better deal typically.

Should we give a “pass” to professionals when they are late? by Josh Brincko

What are our expectations when waiting on professionals to help us?

When you need to see your doctor for something, do you call your doctor and expect to get what you need at that very moment? Not really. You wouldn’t call your doctor personally to make an appointment  since the doctor is busy doctoring. Instead, you would call the receptionist and make an appointment... unless it is an emergency. Doctors are revered as highly esteemed professionals, and we respect their time accordingly. When you are waiting in the doctor’s exam room, and the doc shows up 20 minutes late, it is easy to get frustrated. We should think about the bigger picture though. What was the doctor doing before he or she came to check on your nagging cold? The doctor could have been talking through someone’s surgical options with a life threatening illness just minutes before checking on you and your cold.

When you do have a true emergency, it is EXPECTED, however, that the doctor will help you IMMEDIATELY. This immediate care is essential for your well-being, and it will probably make the doctor late for helping someone else that had an appointment when your emergency occurred. This seems fair when thinking about the big picture, but it’s easy to lose sight of it when you’re sitting in the exam room for a late doc to show up. The doctor is not at liberty to discuss the reason for their tardiness since it’s required to keep the other patient’s medical information confidential.

How does this example relate to working with other professionals? Do doctors get a pass because they are dealing with human life? It seems like it. If your CPA is late for an appointment, do we get upset? Yep. Do they get a pass? Not really, but should they? Your CPA may have been helping someone deal with a stressful letter that came from the IRS, and immediate attention may be necessary to protect their financial security and put their stress at ease. If I was just asking some routine tax questions, I would be OK with my CPA being late to meet with me in that situation. The CPA is supposed to keep other clients’ information confidential, so again, we may never be privy to the reason the CPA might be running late. This is not a matter of human well-being though, so if a CPA was late often, it could simply be the result of the CPA having too many clients. That high work load may be a disservice to the attention you may deserve from that professional. If the tardiness is too common, the pass should be revoked.

How about an attorney? This is another professional that deals with confidential information that typically deals with a stressful, time-sensitive situation in someone’s personal life or business. If your attorney is late for your meeting, it could have a profound impact on meeting a deadline with a court order that could have a major impact on your financial well-being. Many things an attorney does are subject to deadlines outside of an attorney’s control, so it is important for attorneys to schedule their workload accordingly to prevent too many deadlines from happening at the same time. If an attorney is late for your meeting to review a legal question you have, think about the bigger picture. Perhaps they just found some unexpected evidence that needs analyzed before a hearing the next day to prevent someone from losing their home. I would be OK if my attorney was late to meet with me if they were dealing with something like this for somebody else. Again, the attorney must keep these things confidential, so we will not know the specifics and should give the attorney a pass. If this happens too often, it could be the result of the attorney having too many clients for them to manage, so the pass should be revoked. 

Architects also deal with very time-sensitive matters. Like doctors, architects’ decisions protect the health and safety of human life, and like CPA’s, architects’ decisions protect the financial well-being of the most expensive thing a client may ever purchase: the construction of their home. If the architect makes the wrong decision, it could have a major impact on human life - and not just one life like a doctor, but an entire building full of humans. We hear stories about people getting trapped in buildings during fires, buildings crushing people during earthquakes, and freak accidents when things fail during construction. The role of the architect helps to protect human life in situations like these. Buildings are also expensive. They are far more expensive than most medical procedures. The architect must make decisions that result in the way materials get purchased and installed. If done improperly, those materials mail fail, leak, and impact all the thousands of dollars worth of materials and human life below it. This could result in the shutdown of a business which also results in loss of income for that business. Architects must take a high degree of care in designing and monitoring the quality of the buildings they design to prevent loss of large sums of the client’s money and ensure the people in the buildings are safe. Architects also deal with very time-sensitive information. Deadlines from building departments are not negotiable. If an architect is late, it could add a year to a project timeline in some situations. Think of the financial ramifications that could have for a client. If a construction condition arises that needs immediate attention, the architect’s creative problem-solving skills can prevent an unsafe condition for the laborers, or it can simply provide a solution to an impossible problem that results in keeping the labors working. Without the architect’s quick action, the labors could be out of work, and the client’s building will get done late. This could cause financial impact for the laborers who rely on their paycheck and the client who needs to move into their home before their lease on their rental ends. 

As an architect, I take my role very seriously. I understand my attention may be needed at any moment. I may need to shift from one obligation to focus my attention on something more critical. This is part of the job. There has been a few times in my career when I have had to cancel a meeting or show up late as a result of project emergencies. We notify the client when this happens, and we appreciate the understanding since we would have done the same for them if the tables were turned. I mitigate many of these project emergencies by doing 3 things: 

1. Keep a reasonable project load and the right project team. If I have too many projects at a time, it’s not possible to keep up with the obligations. If I don’t have enough projects, I would not be able to pay my overhead expenses. The right balance is essential.

2. I respond to every client request within a day. This enables me to get an early start on all tasks, so if an emergency comes up, I can focus on it without having a major impact on my other projects. Once the emergency is over, I can resume the task that I had already previously started. If I had not already chosen to make progress on it, that task would be nowhere near completion and likely exceed its deadline if I had to start from scratch. Having an early start makes a big difference in getting things done on time. This sometimes means working at unconventional hours of the day or night, but that is part of the role of being a professional.

3. I set expectations accordingly. When a client has a request that is time-sensitive, I work on it NOW. When something is not time-sensitive, I give the client an estimate of how long something may take to complete, and I check in each week to update them as progress is made. Often times, my work is dependent upon the work of other professionals such as engineers, so I must also manage their timing too, and keep the client informed regularly. I also gauge expectations based on the clients’ interactions. If I ask a client a question, and it takes them 3 days to answer, that demonstrates the timing is not critical. I try to respond to clients faster than they respond to me. 

Most projects take at least a year and often two years to design and prepare for construction to begin. There is a lot of work and a lot of waiting during that time as we coordinate the efforts of surveyors, structural engineers, civil engineers, geotechnical engineers, and bureaucrats at building departments. Much of the waiting tends to be from clients making decisions and building departments reviewing documents.

On a few projects, I have added up the number of days of wait time for each party. On all of these projects, the most days of wait time has always come from the client, followed by the building department, and followed by consultants. This is surprising. The building department does take a long time to review plans, but we wouldn’t expect clients to take longer to make up their minds. The is attributed to the large number of decisions that need to be made. Most clients do respond within a day, however. A building department may take 90 days to review plans, but a client easily has more than 90 decisions to make. We send hundreds of emails with hundreds of drawings, and all of these require decisions. If a client takes one day for each decision, that attributes to the long timeline. These decisions all have huge financial impacts, so it is understandable that clients take their time to make informed decisions. We do our best to give our clients the information they need in a timely fashion to enable them to make good choices. We appreciate the opportunity and trust our clients give us, and we also appreciate their patience when we must focus our attention temporarily elsewhere. In the end, we work as expediently as possible and treat all projects with the same level of care. 

Jack and Jill Bathrooms by Josh Brincko

Interconnected bathrooms are disturbing. Let’s explore to learn why this concept, which may seem like a good idea, is disturbing.  

Reason 1: it’s interconnected, and it’s a bathroom. Think about that. The goal should not be convenient entry for more than one person into a bathroom which is the space where privacy is really THE main goal.   

Reason 2: Locking the door is awkward. Jack wakes up in the middle of the night to pee. Jack opens his bathroom door within his own bedroom, enters his shared bathroom, turns on the light, and shuts his door (creak, slam, jiggle jiggle). Then he goes and locks Jill’s door (jiggle jiggle). Jill has a nightmare of a monster attacking her from the bathroom as light emanates from below the door, and she hears that unmistakable sound of pee followed by a drip drippity drip, SLAM ... yeah, Jack is a good brother and put the toilet seat down for his sister...that was the SLAM Jill heard. And finally pshhhhhhhhhh clank goes the faucet as he washes his hands, then jiggle jiggle creak as he exits the bathroom and goes back to bed (while Jill is sweating from the nightmare Jack just caused).  


Reason 3: entering the bathroom from your brother’s room is awkward. Did you notice in the commentary above that Jack remembered to put down the toilet seat, but he forgot to do something else? He forgot to unlock Jill’s door when he was done! So, in the middle of the night, when Jill needs to get up to pee, she needs to go out to the hall to enter Jack’s bedroom to get into their weird shared bathroom. Jiggle jiggle creak as she opens Jack’s bedroom door. Ewww grosssssss she mumbles as she steps in something unknown but likely disgusting on her brother’s bedroom floor in the dark. Then BAM $&@#! she yells as she runs into the dresser drawer that Jack didn’t close in his dark bedroom. Yea, that’s right, your sweet innocent daughter just swore, and it’s your fault because you gave her a creepy interconnected bedroom. Now Jack is awake and yells at Jill to get the $&@#! out of his room. Both kids are now awake, screaming at each other, then they become too tired to do well in school, then they can’t get into college, and they cannot become employed because of the filthy language they developed because of their shared bathroom. Then you have two 30-something trucker mouth kids still living at home and still sharing their bathroom. It’s a self perpetuating problem. Ok, back to the point... The argument ends, Jill shuts Jack’s door, locks it, does her business, and storms back into her room, locks her bathroom door to ensure her creepy brother doesn’t wake her up when he uses the bathroom, and she tries to get a little sleep before school the next morning. She will not get into the deep sleep REM phase where the info in her brain is properly sorted, stored, and easy to recall later. All the studying Jill did for her test the night before was now just a waste. She eventually fails her test, loses interest in school, and soon becomes a goth chick and listens to death metal music and rarely leaves the house.  


Reason 4: getting locked out of your own bathroom is awkward. Once Jack and Jill get accustomed to their sibling entering their room, they start to lock their bathroom door from the inside when they are done peeing to prevent the sibling from coming into their room later. The next person who needs to use the bathroom can’t get in because they locked themselves out from their own door and still forgot to unlock the other door. Now you have two locked bathroom doors. At 3am, they come to wake you up... DAAAAD! DAD! DAAAAAD! Or... MOMMMM!!! I can’t get in the bathroom. You reluctantly wake up, step in the gross thing on Jack’s floor and bump your shin on his dresser, yell profanities, and look for something to stick in that little hole on the doorknob to unlock it. You teach both kids how to unlock it themselves, so they won’t wake you up again. You can’t get back to sleep before your 5:30am alarm while wishing you would have listened to your architect about not building a Jack and Jill bathroom. 


Reason 5: it is awkward to walk-in on your brother while he is peeing. Both kids just get accustomed to unlocking their door with the pinhole method you taught them in Reason 4 above, and inevitably, a sibling will see things they never wanted to see when they pick the lock and enter without knocking. It will eventually happen.   

Reason 6: are you really still reading this? Don’t do a Jack and Jill bathroom. Just put the door in the hall, and avoid the problem altogether.  


Solution: for the ideal shared bathroom, we can design a situation where Jack can be taking a shower in complete privacy while Jill is brushing her teeth at the sink and even using the toilet in a private toilet room. It takes up the same space, and our creativity will leave your family well-rested, good-mannered, and your kids will have the life skills needed to be able to move out of your home well before they turn 30 :) 


Integration of Architect and Builder by S. Joshua Brincko

Here's how the design and construction industries integrate today...  

The client hires an architect to design a building. The architect designs it over the course of a year(s) with hundreds or thousands of discussions and decisions made between the client and architect. This immense body of knowledge is summarized into drawings, then we send them out to builders for construction bids. We advise the client to hire the builder with the best reputation, best price, and best understanding of the project goals. We value engineer the plans as needed to make the construction cost lower since it is inevitably always more than the client wants to pay because of clients asking for more than can be afforded. We agree on a scope of work and a construction price, and the builder starts building. During construction, the builder doesn't know the plans as well as the architect (how could s/he), so errors get made. Then the plans need to change to adapt to the error. Or the plans don't have a specific piece of information, so the builder just builds whatever benefits him most (instead of for the client's benefit), then the client doesn't like it and wants it changed. Again the plans need to change. The architect is in the role of protecting the client's investment. This process of misinterpreting the plans happens continuously during the entire construction process because the builder does not understand the plans entirely (since the builder was not privy to the thousands of decisions made before they were selected to build the project AND the builder wants to build quality things in the quickest/cheapest way typically to maximize their profit.) The architect acts as the client's advisor during the whole process to insist the builder builds according to plan, and this creates an adversarial relationship with the builder due to all the inevitable misinterpretation in reading complicated technical drawings representing thousands of decisions. The architect is paid hourly for the efforts of protecting the client's investment, and clients typically do not want to pay for this service. The builder also charges for the time to do quality control by working with the architect, reading and interpreting the drawings with the architect, and communicating all of this information from the architect to the their suppliers and sub-contractors. The builder must be successful in re-communicating information from the plans to the rest of the construction team. Therefor the builder should know the drawings better than anyone. Is that realistic though?

Here's how design and construction USED to be a hundred years ago, and how I am working to change it for the future...

The client should hire an architect to design a building AND MAKE SURE THE BUILDING GETS BUILT PROPERLY. To achieve this, the client is effectively hiring the architect to "build" a building. Newsflash, most builders don't build buildings...they hire other people (subcontractors) to build it for them. So why doesn't the architect just do this? Since the architect knows the plans better than anyone else (and GOOD architects also understand construction better than anyone else), the architect should be the person directly communicating the drawings to the sub-contractors and suppliers.

Why don't more architects just do it this way? It's because most architects don't have enough money to finance the construction of the project, and they are adverse to the risks that come with construction. The architects are typically trying to protect their clients from risk while also protecting themselves from risk. This risk is worth something. This risk is really what builders are being paid for (even if they never pickup a hammer and get their hands dirty). Architects also have a valuable skill set (that cost a lot of time and money to achieve and maintain), and spreading that skill set to oversee many projects simultaneously is necessary for business model of the professional to work out financially.

Here's a solution I'm working on and have tried a few times successfully...

To mitigate the financial aspect, the client could just pay the subcontractors and material suppliers directly. The architect is already reviewing the builder's invoices anyway to authorize the client to pay the general contractor for work that is completed properly. If the client just pays the subcontractors or suppliers directly, this means the architect or the builder would not need to take on the risk and cash flow problems of paying thousands or millions of dollars to those material suppliers for products or subcontractors for services. In my opinion, the client is already taking on that risk anyway, then transferring it to the builder for a period of time. The builder then upcharges every cost they incur by 20% to take on this risk and make a profit. Instead, the architect could just advise the client as to when to write checks to suppliers and subcontractors, and the client could just keep that risk. Remember the risk is worth something, right? That means the client saves money if they carry the burden of the financial risk, and the builder avoids that part of the risk. Again, the client is ultimately paying the money anyway, so why pay an inflated price to a builder, just so the builder can pay that money to the subcontractors? The builder is essentially being paid to operate as a bank for a series of monthly loans in exchange for their experience with dealing with the construction budget, construction schedule, and monitoring subcontractor’s performance. 

The rest of the risk that comes with construction is in the quality control and integration of the work of the various subcontractors. If the walls are not framed properly, the shower tile will not be straight, for example. Someone needs to be held accountable for all quality issues. Normally, the builder is holding the subcontractors s/he hired accountable for that quality. This is the builder shifting the risk to the subcontractor. This is extra work for the architect, sort of. Architects are already monitoring the quality of construction to ensure it meets the standards in the drawings, but the architect usually has the convenience of just telling the general contractor to "fix it." The general contractor then tells the subcontractor s/he hired to "fix it" if it was not built according to the plans. The architect could easily communicate that directly to the subcontractor (more efficiently) and also take on the work of hiring subcontractors. The architect can still bill hourly for this service, and it will still be a savings to the client since the client would not be paying for the sum of the architect's time, builder's time, and builder's  percentage fee markup of 20% that is higher than an architect’s ordinary fee.

This method effectively puts more work on the plate of the architect and keeps the finances in the hands of the owner. The end result would be at least 25% savings in the cost of construction. This is because there's simply no 20% markup on the cost of construction by a builder, and many of the costs of project management during construction get shifted from the builder to the architect (who is the person who understands the plans more than anyone). This means there would be no misinterpretation of the drawings, less drawings would need to be created in the first place, less communication needed, fewer construction meetings, and less rebuilding any incorrectly built portions of the project. All of these result in financial savings and time savings. 

How do I plan to start doing this? I already have and am scaling it. I have started small and focused on working with the best builders who "get it." This is not be the most ideal method for every project, but it does make sense for many. It will scare some builders. It is atypical. Builders currently build AND currently run the business of managing the build. Separating the two is the goal of this method. Get expert craftsmen to construct. Get highly organized managers to manage. Many builders never went to college but are managing the biggest expense of a homeowner’s life! It is not easy work to manage a construction budget. I will seek out to work with builders (and I already do) who will allow the architect to take on a more leading role in the construction process and are willing to partner in the coordination of getting the projects built effectively. I have already hired every type of subcontractor, I know how to manage them, and I can effectively communicate the design goals and construction parameters using their language. (I also speak enough Spanish to be effective when needed.) The projects I have already attempted in this method have saved the client money while allowing them to have more control, understanding, and confidence in their projects. This revolutionizes the way buildings are designed and built with an architect (experienced in construction) at the helm. It's "design and build", not "design then build."

Insulation Nerd by Josh Brincko

Yea, it’s true. I think insulation is awesome. It keeps our indoor environment comfortable, and it does this in so many ways other than just keeping the warmth inside. It also provides sound deadening, prevents air infiltration, and deals with condensation. The part I nerd-out on is how insulation can most effectively keep your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Insulation science has changed a lot over the years, so here’s your crash course on it.

We are all mostly familiar with the pink, fluffy, itchy stuff that you see rolled out in attics. That is called batting, or batt insulation. It is the default, cheapest insulation, and it provides an R-value of about 3 per inch. That means a 1” thick layer of batt insulation would “resist” (that’s the “R” in R-value) the flow of heat through itself by a unit of 3 BTU’s per hour. Don’t think too much about that…just know that the bigger the R-value, the better. Batts have a relatively low R-value when compared to other types of insulation. Also, batts are squishy, so they tend to slump down within a wall due to gravity over time, and this leaves parts of the top of a wall un-insulated. The top of a wall is the worst place not to have insulation since warm air rises. If you look at a thermal image of a wall in an old house (see below), you can usually see the blue areas (cold temps) are concentrated at the top of a wall where the insulation has fallen over time. This is also because fluffy batts get wet through condensation or leaks, and that extra weight pulls the batts down within the wall. Batts are like a sponge, and they don’t dry out easily. Because of this and their low R-value, I prefer other forms of insulation.

Thermal image of a stud wall

Thermal image of a stud wall

There are a bunch of other types of insulation that are fluffy like batting and have a similar R-value per inch. These include loose cellulose, roxul, wool, cotton, and denim. Some people believe they are being “green” by using recycled denim for their insulation, but in reality, the R-value is quite low, so all these insulation types don’t do the best job of keeping the heat in your home during the winter.

The higher performing insulation types are rigid - not fluffy (like a know coolers don’t have a fluffy lining. You better believe that $300 Yeti cooler has rigid insulation). The rigid types can either be sprayed into place, or they can be purchased in panels. The rigid insulation types have higher R-values per inch and include polyicynene (R-4), expanded polystyrene known as EPS (R-4.5), extruded polystyrene known as XPS (R-5), phenolic (R-8), polyurethane (R-8), and polyisocyanurate known as polyiso (R-8). The R-values listed here can vary over the life of the product as they deteriorate over time, but they are still superior to the R-value of the fluffy insulation types. Not only do the rigid insulation types resist more heat, but they also create a tighter “envelope” around the building since the seams between rigid panels can be covered with tape and caulked. This prevents the passage of air through any cracks or weak spots known as air infiltration. Imagine wearing a puffy coat, but not zipping it up. The cold winter air will make you cold, and the coat doesn’t do much good. If you zip it up, your body heat is trapped inside the coat. Rigid insulation gives us this capability of “zipping” our home shut tight, and trapping the heat inside. Fluffy insulation is a bit more loose fitting, and it does not have the capability of continuously wrapping the house. The fluffy stuff just sits in between the studs, while rigid boards can also be used to cover the studs continuously on the interior and/or the exterior sides of the wall. See the image below, and notice how the polyiso board with its reflective coating reflects the heat into the interior space, and all of it’s seams are covered with a reflective tape to prevent air from flowing in between the panels.


Another advantage to some of the rigid insulation types is that they can be spray applied. This means you can hire a certified installer to wear a space suit and spray every single nook and cranny with insulation, and it expands to completely fill all voids. This is tough to do with rigid boards that must be cut to fit into each and every little void. As the spray-applied foam expands, it is also filling any hole where air could infiltrate through a wall. This is yet another advantage of spraying insulation into place. The downside is it can be 2 to 3 times more expensive than batts. You get exactly what you pay for. Your can see a photo of spray foam here:

The last point to address with rigid insulation is the difference between open-cell and closed-cell. They can both be spray-applied or purchased in panels. The open-cell types are a pliable type of foam and have a lower R-value and are less expensive. The closed-cell types are a more solid type of foam and have a higher R-value and are more expensive. The main selling point for closed-cell insulation is that it does not allow moisture to permeate through it since it is so dense. This includes liquid moisture and, more importantly, water vapor (which is water in gas form like when we exhale, take a steamy shower, or have equipment that puts off vapors). Preventing water vapor from passing through the insulation is very important, because we MUST allow any moisture to dry out or mold will develop. We go through a lot of effort to keep our attics and other void spaces ventilated by allowing air to flow through and evaporate or carry out any moisture in the air to prevent mold from developing. The closed-cell insulation types are so dense that they do not require us to ventilate our roofs or other spaces (when installed properly) since they simply do not allow moisture to pass through. This is a huge benefit along with its superior R-value, sound deadening, and prevention of air infiltration by creating a continuous air barrier.

Feel free to ask about different approaches to keeping your indoor environment comfortable through the use of insulation. The type of insulation to use is just part of the equation. HOW to use the insulation is the fun part and varies in each application. We can help you design the perfect construction details to keep your building performing at its best.