Looking at the results from the initial bid process, it was clearly evident that the total cost of the project was beyond what I was willing to spend, and frankly beyond what I thought made sense. So with that in mind, I approached the two highest-bidding builders with a proposal; would they be open to enter into an agreement where I act as general contractor for the overall project, but engage them to build the shell of the house? More specifically, I would work directly with subcontractors to do the excavation, septic, well, plumbing, electric, HVAC, drywall, insulation, flooring, paint, etc. And they (the builder) would handle the foundation, framing (interior and exterior), siding, roofing, and concrete flatwork. There would be some areas of overlap. For instance, I would purchase the windows and exterior doors, and the builder would handle their installation.
Doing this would allow me to save in two ways. First, on all work that I directly contracted, I would save an amount equal to the builder’s profit margin. And second, depending on how tight the budget was (and how much time I had) I could do some of the work myself. Things I had in mind were finishing the second full bath, installing the wood floors, installing the interior trim, installing the kitchen cabinets, building the kitchen island, installing the attic insulation, and painting the interior top coats in every room. My goal was to get the total cost of the project (house and garage) as close to $400,000 as possible.
Both builders agreed to the potential arrangement, and submitted the following bids:
In the end, the bottom line price had little to do with my decision. My choice, when it came down to it, was to go with a younger builder who seemed to pay significant attention to detail (which I consider to be a positive attribute) and an older builder who has been in business for decades and had an interest in the Passive House concept prior to meeting me. It wasn’t easy; in fact it was almost the flip of a coin. Either of the bids, when put together with the rest of the project costs (which I pay directly to sub-contractors), appeared to allow me to get within reasonable range of my $400,000 “goal” for the entire project. More specifically, I concluded that, depending on the quality of finishes that my wife and I decided on, the cost to construct the house and garage would be somewhere between $420,000 and $450,000. That certainly wasn’t as “inexpensive” as I had initially hoped. But it was a price I was willing to pay to see the project through. So I pushed forward, and decided to work with Hugh Lofting Timber Framing out of West Grove PA. Hugh’s been in business since the 70s, and although his business centers on timber frame construction, he has a deep interest in energy efficient homes, was finishing up a “Larson Truss” residence that was turning out beautifully, and attended Passive House training. He also has a personality that I felt meshed with mine, and a character that I felt I could trust.