Second Design Meeting (this time with our builder)

On Friday we had our second design meeting for the 100k house. This time we invited Scott from Level 5 to join us in order to give initial feedback from a cost standpoint on our initial design. Overall the meeting went very well and we all agreed that we got a lot accomplished. We left the meeting with the following assignments for the next week:

Scott (Level 5) – provide a rough estimate for the cost to build the shell of our house plus and estimate for the remaining interior work. This will allow us to see if we are on target as well as give us a baseline to adjust different features until we end up with a design that meets our budget.

House Requirements Draft

ISA – Make some final changes to the floorplans and elevations for final approval before moving on to a dimensioned bid package for Level 5 and other vendors such as SIP manufacturers.

Chad (postgreen) – Start calling and getting quotes from every SIP manufacturer within a 500 mile radius to see if we can afford SIPs for both houses.

Design Day

Cost Discussion

Scott brought up a lot of good points on the budget that made for good discussion points. Probably the first was related to exterior cladding options. If we went with a cement board type of product with a warranty then it seemed like it would cost us a minimum of $10 psf installed and concrete block for the base of the corner home as well as the wall for our 100k house would come in around the same point. If we used the generic Hardi-Backer sheets the cost would be lower but there would be no warranty and we would most likely have to paint the panels which everyone agreed would not be very sustainable in the long run. In the end, we agreed that a smooth stucco finish would need to be our baseline exterior cladding finish for now as it could be installed for less than $5 psf in Philadelphia.

Next, we discussed using radiant in-floor heating as the heat source for the house. While radiant is usually a premium feature or an upgrade option in homes today, we felt like the design of the 100k house could incorporate it with very little additional cost. First, the radiant would only be installed on the ground floor of the home which would limit the installation to one, 600-700 sf zone. Second, the finish for the ground floor will simply be the polished concrete slab foundation which eliminates a minimum of $5 psf to install a finished floor over the concrete. This savings should cover the cost of having a local plumber run the PEX tubing during the pouring of the slab foundation to eliminate the high cost of more complicated radiant installation systems on the market that can run as high as $15 – $20 psf. Lastly, since the house is so small we may be able to use only one boiler to heat both the home’s hot water as well as radiant heat. By the end of the meeting we agreed that radiant was no longer an option and we have to make it work in the design and budget. Brian was especially happy about this as he has quite the distaste for forced air and all the discomfort and unsightly ductwork that comes with it. He was also excited to be able to demonstrate radiant as a economical option for heat in a low-cost home.

Kitchen Peninsula Cabinet Design Idea – Front View

One discussion that caught me a bit off guard was regarding electric vs. gas utilities. I had always assumed that the stove would be gas and possibly the water heater and that this was no big deal from a cost standpoint. As our discussion progressed we felt we would end up with a home where the only gas appliance would be the stove as it is traditionally much preferred by people who really like to cook. I feel the probability is high that our target market is going to like cooking on a gas stove so this was important to the design in my eyes. Scott informed us that that additional cost of running gas hookups for only one appliance is hard to justify. First, we have to pay the utility company around $1500 just to hookup the gas to the house, and that’s a best case scenario. Then we have to pay for the extra gas runs in the house to only one appliance. Forgoing this for an all electric house could end up saving us a minimum of $2K – $3K in the end which is a lot considering our budget. This was probably the saddest moment of the meeting for me. Scott did mention that there are new electric stoves that use halogen burners that respond to changes in heat immediately and are very similar in performance to gas burners. This requires more investigation and a sliver of hope for me…


Scott had to run to another meeting so we finished the meeting going over the floorplans and overall design. We were very close to our final design and focussed on a few items such as:

  • making the ground floor as open as possible
  • incorporating a small, storage closet on the ground floor in addition to possible storage underneath the stairs
  • reducing the size of the half bath on the ground floor to as small as humanly possible and the same for the utility closet
  • creating two seperate bedrooms on the 2nd floor
  • adding a small rear deck to the second floor off of the master bedroom

The most interesting part of the design discussion centered around the 2-story bathroom and utility core that ISA had come up with in their original sketches shown below.
It seemed that if we could successfully contain both bathrooms, the utilities and the washer/dryer in this one core that it could be clad in something unique and appear as if it was actually dropped into the home as a separate component upon entering the home and viewing it from the 1.5 story entrance. Adding such visual interest seems important in such a small and low-budget home. We also played around with the concept of actually having this core prefabbed offsite at the same time the site work was being done in order to drop it right into place at the same time we had a crane or hoist on site for the SIP walls. This could drastically cut down our overall construction timeline but we are unsure of how it will ultimately impact the budget due to traditionally high prefab costs.

That’s all for now. Hopefully we will have some new images to share soon as well as some of our first budget and quoting spreadsheets. Please feel free to contribute comments on our meetings as this is a critical time in the planning phase…