Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What a stud!

What makes the Northwest unique? Green trees, pristine beaches, and live volcanoes? Yes, but what makes building homes in the Northwest unique? Give up? It's the size of stud used. Throughout the rest of the country builders rely on the trusty 2x4. But here in the Northwest the energy code has demanded that the 2x6 become the weapon of choice. So what do we do with the 2x6? We space them 16" apart and fill the cavities with R-21 insulation. Every where else they do the same thing but max out with R-15 high density batts. Crazy! While Portland, OR uses R-21 for it's 4600 heating degree days, Minneapolis allows R-15 for it's whopping 8000+ heating degree days. Seems insane to me.

Now, let's say you want more insulation. You could use the 2x6 stud, but keep in mind your wall will still be 33% - 50% less insulated than your floors or ceiling. (That's okay, heat rises, right? Okay smart guy, if that's the case, why insulate your floor? 'Heat' does NOT rise). Digressing, you can see that your walls are seriously hampered compared to your hat and socks. How do you feel about 2x8 walls with R-25? Not well, I suppose. But what about 2x6 walls at R-21 with (wait for it) 2" of EPS rigid foam insulation? Suddenly you've come close to R-30 for your wall. Not bad, eh? And if you're still stuck on 2x4 studs with R-15, 3" of EPS rigid foam will bring you to a more comfortable R-27. Besides that, exterior foam makes a great thermal break between your studs and the outside world.

Since Istockhouseplans is a Northwest company, we've been used to the idea of specifying 2x6 studs on all of our plans. If you are a builder anywhere else, please don't let that stop you from using our plans. Simply use our blueprints and replace the studs with 2x4. Though our drawings show 6" thick walls, our details specify that either 2x4 or 2x6 are acceptable. If it's really a breaking point with your jurisdiction, let us know and we'd be happy to redraw the plans at no extra charge. That's our service to you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Are you up to code?

Have you heard this question before? Water cooler, permit office, job site? What does up to code mean? Does it mean your home complies with code? Good. But what does code really mean? Have you ever tried to build a home below code? Have you gotten away with it? Has it come back to bite you?

Enough of the inquisition. A code home (if your jurisdiction has a code) is the MINIMUM home you can legally build. In other words, if you built a home any less than code, you could go to jail. So a code home is the worst home you can build without getting into legal trouble with the state. Is that how you're defining your company, by building the worst homes possible?

If you couldn't tell that we were in a housing slump, good for you. If you're out there trying to market your homes for 30% less than list price without success, let me tell you why. It's because your home is the worst home legally allowed. Meanwhile Joe Toolbelt has upped his ante and is putting energy efficiency features into his homes and they're selling. What's that mean, bamboo floors and low VOC paints? No, that means 24" o.c. studs, increased insulation values, a quality heat pump or 95% furnace and a myriad of other features that make your house use 30% less energy than before. "Won't that cost extra?". No, no, and no. You've made it obvious that there is a learning curve, but you've also shown me that you've broken that before. The 1992 code shattered all your ideals, but you got the hang of it. Now I'm telling you to do it again.

If you are a GC, get energy efficiency figured out, then talk to your subs. I'll bet your subs would frame in a monkey suit right now if it guaranteed they would get your framing job. Tell them how you want your house built, and tell them that you have no qualms about dropping them midway through the project if they're not doing it right. Are you a sub? Figure out the energy efficiency for your trade and market yourself for the same price as before.

If you can figure out new technology like pneumatic nailers and factory-built trusses, surely you can do better than 80% furnaces and batt insulation. Need help? Come to istockhouseplans and get our energy efficiency details with every plan.