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Can traditional builder methods to reduce cost translate to modern and green?

by Chad Ludeman on December 6, 2007 · 2 comments

in budget,Development

This weekend I was hosting an open house as part of my realtor duties when the builder/developer of the property stopped in. It was cold, rainy and the Eagles were playing so no one else was there and we had some time to chat about building and development. The developer was actually a builder who had just started getting into his own developments in the past few years. He prefers modern designs and fixtures which prompted me to ask where he sourced many of his fixtures and materials.

Like many modern builders he is using a decent amount of IKEA products in the kitchen in bath and stated that he is very happy with the quality. He said the quality is actually much better than the traditional, more expensive cabinets he had used in the past as he slid one of the kitchen drawers open and shut multiple times.

Okay, using IKEA is an easy one, but what about everything else? I pointed to a nice Duravit vanity in one of the bathrooms similar to the one in the picture below. He went on to tell me that he got this from the back of a truck in Home Depot along with a bunch of other custom items that had been special ordered and then returned by the buyers. Home Depot can’t return many of these special orders to the manufacturers so every once in a while they call up some of their local builder contacts and ask them if they want to buy them off of them for a large discount. Basically the builder gets a call, goes down to the store and decides if he wants to buy a bunch of boxed up mystery items with one offer. They barter and the builder gets to take away a bunch of unknown, special-order items for a grand or two. He doesn’t know what he has until he gets home. Sometimes he finds a $1,500 Duravit vanity in there and sometime he finds nothing of value to him at all.

modern duravit vanity

He then proceeded to take me into the garage where he had over a hundred faucets in a pile that he had bought at an auction. He has to buy them all at once but he ends up getting fixtures that retail for $300 each for as low as $10 each. Other methods include simply buying materials from their normal vendors when they are having a liquidation sale or teaming up with other builder friends on bulk purchases of the same items.

This is all great for the traditional builder, but does this translate to modern and green building products? My concern is that it does not.

Finding modern fixtures, while difficult, is still possible at an auction or liquidation sale but add in the need for both modern and low-flow fixtures and will you find anything? It all comes back to supply and demand and unfortunately, in the US there there is very little supply of modern and green products. The biggest home builders in the country are getting the biggest discounts on traditional items that someone reading their recent issue of Dwell magazine would never want to find in their home. The overflow of these common products seems to trickle down to the local, smaller builders who can scoop them up for pennies on the dollar.

So many of the environmental products are still very new to the market and therefore, they still carry their high price tags for the early adopters while they wait for demand to pick up so they can increase their supply and reduce their prices. This is not meant to be a discouraging post but rather a commentary on the challenges of building affordably in the US right now when a modern and green design is the goal.

For further reading on a similar subject, check out Greg La Vardera’s recent post from a contact in Sweden that has been observing the differences between modern development in the US vs. Europe.

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

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g haughton : Read for December 6, 2007
December 6, 2007 at 10:49 pm

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1 jacob December 20, 2007 at 4:40 am

Traditional methods were the only way we were able to build our affordable modern home. We were able to keep our construction costs right at about $100/sf. We have radiant heating (pex in gypcrete with Miracote flooring) in three total zones. The main thing we did was employ standard building practices such as wood framing, a simple design and tons of sweat equity. We spent the most on windows, metal stairs and exterior cladding. The biggest and best way to save money is by winning people over. We were fortunately able to persuade our GC and his subs to give us very good pricing and to move quickly. Find people that share your enthusiasm for affordable modern!

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