J.Schwartz,llc Construction Blog (PAHIC#861)

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Monday, February 8, 2010

A Step Above – Building Science integrated with Construction – Energy Audits

I knew at the age of 14 that I wanted to build. I wanted to build things so that I could feel good about myself, and so that my clients would feel good in the spaces that I worked on – their homes. I wanted it so badly that I worked summers as a framer, or more accurately at the time – as a wood carrier. No matter, to be surrounded by the sawdust and to see a structure rise, was all I wanted. I wanted it so badly that I went to school for Architecture, Architectural Engineering, and Civil Engineering – all to be a “builder”. But what does that mean? A doctor is someone that holds a license that compares them with a standard; a CPA must pass tests to be called a “CPA”, but a builder – well – anyone can call themselves a builder; and that is the problem.
There is a science to proper construction – a science that I was not even taught in seven years of higher-education. A science that I taught myself, learned, and sought out.
“Building Science” is now a catch-phrase, but a very good one. Efficiency of a home has suddenly become important in the U.S. (but always should have been), and J. Schwartz,llc is on the forefront. There are terms out there now like “tight home”, “energy efficient home”, and “green home”, but what do they mean, and who can build them? AND – WHAT DO THEY COST???? The truth is, an energy efficient home need not cost more than a cookie-cutter home, a green home may have a higher up-front price tag, but may very well have a large return-on-investment PLUS a large benefit to the common good. It is all in the education – the know how, and the ability. J. Schwartz,llc is in the unique position to offer these evaluations and opportunities as a part of our construction services.
We now offer full energy auditing services that include a complete and thorough evaluation of existing homes, a FREE audit on homes that we renovate, and all of our new custom projects will be ENERGY STAR RATED.
We are dedicated to remain in the forefront of smart, educated and efficient construction – and we can explain (and understand) what that means.

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 9:28 pm  

Sunday, January 10, 2010

ENERGY AUDITS – CALL TODAY AND WE WILL TELL YOU ABOUT THE POTENTIAL ” CASH FOR CAULKERS” REBATES

Do you have drafty windows? Ice Dams on the roof, An inefficient Air conditioning or Heating System, Electrical problems? Call J. Schwartz,llc – we will soon offer full home energy audits – and will audit your home free of charge if you purchase the recommended upgrades from us!
The Federal Government is looking into a new program dubbed “cash for caulkers” that may credit you with a large portion of the upgrades, but an Audit will most likely be required in order to quantify the results.
Call us to schedule you Audit today!
CLICK HERE FOR A RECENT CNN MONEY ARTICLE ON ENERGY AUDITS!

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 3:03 pm  

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is “long term” success, truly success? Picking the right team.

How many times have you been doing something that you were not sure of and had no expertise in, and the proof that you were successful is that the project “worked” immediately after you were done? Who knows what will happen after a week, or a year or longer? We all do it, maybe it is a plastic kids toy on Christmas, or maybe while working on a car, or our homes.
Well, read this story and maybe you will think twice next time…
During the heavy rains of this last month (December, 2009), a family was gathering for an occasion in a home in South Jersey. The matriarch of the family had lived in the 40 year old home for over 8 years. She had cared for the home and it was in seemingly immaculate condition by anyone’s standards.
There was a loud “pop” and the floor shuddered – and one of the sons went to investigate. What he found was silty mud rushing into the basement, and an entire section of the foundation wall missing.
After a call to the fire department and a night filled with news vans, camera crews and firemen, the house was left uninhabitable, without water, electricity and gas. It was wrapped in caution tape with a big red sticker on the front door that read “DO NOT ENTER”. The basement was shored-up so that no further immediate damage would occur and a women was left homeless.
Well, why did this happen? This foundation was there for decades, so it must have been installed correctly, right? After all… it lasted for such a long time. Well, I loaded this question, so we all know the answer.
The typical foundation wall (hollow block – in this case, real “cinder blocks”) stacked and pointed didn’t do the job this time – not in the long run. Maybe a soil test would have solved this problem? Maybe a structural engineer would have included the potential soil and water pressure in the calculations that he used to design the reinforcing of the wall? Probably so.
Now I cannot say with any certainty that this wall was not engineered; but my very strong assumption is that the builder and/or Architect just decided to use the “typical” foundation wall and didn’t think twice about the specific conditions or the longevity of the product that he/she built. After all, this worked before… Well, was this successful? It did “work”, right? Well, again, no need for an answer.
In many cases, that foundation wall would have been fine; but in this case, it failed catastrophically and risked life and limb in the process; and although no one was physically injured, the costs to repair the home will cause harm, as will the distress in the meantime.
So now the homeowner is left battling a “reluctant” insurance company, while J. Schwartz,llc expediently gets the team of Soils Engineers and Structural Engineers together to do what should have been done in the first place…. But now, there will be the added expense of new HVAC systems, new finishes and furnishings and the project will all take place under a home that wants to follow the laws of gravity.

This most likely happened because someone was either ignorant of the possibility of involving professional engineers, or because they just knew better and “knew” that this would work…. Ignorance, either way.
So when considering your next project – whether it be putting together a Big Wheel , or having a house built, make sure that you and/or your chosen “team leader” (General Contractor), know what they are doing and who should be on the team. It is not good enough if it “looks good” when they are done – it must be designed and built correctly, too. (And when putting together that Big Wheel, you can look at the directions – I won’t tell!)
The lesson is: This could have been avoided. Oh yeah, and what about the dozens of neighboring homes built by the same team?

View of failure from front shooting towards back

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 11:18 am  

Friday, November 6, 2009

A New Carbon Footprint Calculation Tool

The Rocky Mountain Institute has release a new on-line calculator to help rus gain the knowledge to reduce the life cycle carbon foortprint of the homes that are built. This is a great tool to use in the planning, design and material selection phases of any project. WWW.GREENFOOTSTEP.ORG

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 11:31 am  

Friday, October 16, 2009

Homeowner Beware! Know your Rights.

There have been recent laws enacted to protect the consumer from home improvement fraud and potential lead exposure. The Pennsylvania Home Improvement Contractor Law went into effect in June of 2009. This law requires that ALL home improvement contractors get a license from the PA Attorney General. This license number should be visibly displayed by the contractor and would look smiilar to this: “PAHIC#861” (with the contractors specific number in lieu of the number shown). There are other specific requirements that must be met by the contractor in terms of client notifications, rights of recision, and specific contract terms. Please note – anyone that works in your home should have this license, not just your General Contractor. Please go to http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/ for more information.
The Environmental Protection Agency has also passed a law that goes into effect on 4/22/09, requiring that ANY person that works on your home that disturbs more than 6 square feet of interior area (a very small area), or 20 square feet of exterior area get trained and become a Certified Renovator capable of testing for and remedying lead paint issues that your pre 1979 home may have. The company must have at least one Certified Renovator that must be on site at specific times during the lead paint abatement, AND the company itself must also be registered with the EPA. (The laws for HUD or Federal financed properties are more stringent than these listed).
The Home Improvement Contractor number for J. Schwartz,llc is PAHIC#861. Joe Schwartz has already taken and passed one of the first EPA classes offered and is a Certified Renovator – We strive to be an industry leader and our clients benefit.

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 8:07 am  

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What your plans mean to you vs. what they may mean to a contractor.

ANOTHER REASON FOR THE DESIGN-BUILD APPROACH:
Often times, J. Schwartz,llc will be presented with a set of Architectural drawings for a project – whether it be a new custom home, or an addition/renovation. The home-owner has done their due-diligence in the selection of an Architect, and has spent countless hours in the planning and selection process with that person before calling the contractors that they would like to bid on the project. The idea behind this is that now they have a set of drawings that can be bid, and they can get apples-to-apples comparisons and therefore receive the “best price”.
Sounds great, right? And it very well may work out that way, but we often see a few problems crop up with this methodology:
1. Once the project is priced, the cost is much higher than expected and is not affordable – leaving more expense and time to quite literally, go back to the drawing board (possibly, multiple times).
2. Often times after J. Schwartz,llc has been awarded a project, and the project is underway – the home-owner realizes that the design is missing something that they feel was integral to the new project – however, it is not on the drawing, and therefore may not fit in the current budget. We often hear, “but I told the Architect about it, so it should be included.” Well, it may be that there was a discussion about it, but J. Schwartz,llc, not having been involved in the planning and design process, was not privy to that conversation and can only build and price based on the plans that we were presented with for construction. Although we do spend a lot of time reviewing plans with our clients to make sure that the drawings are correct – J. Schwartz,llc must also make the strong assumption that the plans are what the client wants because they have spent their time and effort and money on them for the purpose of having them built. Please understand – I am not pointing fingers; sometimes conversations are misunderstood or forgotten, so this situation may not be anyone’s fault; but unfortunately, it also does not make a change free from costs. It should also be understood that a contractor OFTEN works on projects that are multi-phased. This means that projects are sometimes left (for example), without landscaping, or without the front walkway, etc. Therefore, if these items are not on the drawings, it does not necessarily throw up a red-flag that they are missing from the overall project; it only says that they are not included in the scope that is being put out for pricing.
The design-build approach does help alleviate this issue – we are involved in the process from “conception through completion” – so if discussions are had, we are there, if the plans are drawn, we were involved, and if budgets are surpassed – we know about it and can express that before it is too late.
The concern often comes up that if we are contracted based on a budget range, before the design is even started, than what reason do we have to get “best pricing”?
The answer is, that we want repeat business, that we enjoy our good reputation and want to keep it, and the real answer is that we bid our projects out to multiple subcontractors that we know are qualified to do the high-quality, schedule-minded work that we require of them; so they have a reason to be competitive. That being said, our proposal should therefore cost about the same as “the next guy” because they too should be bidding the project out; that is, if they have a complete scope and understanding of the project.

3. The adage “You get what you pay for” still works today. My material costs are the same as the next guy’s – and a good craftsman costs the same no matter who he works for, so be careful; I know I write about this all the time – MAKE SURE YOU ARE LOOKING AT A TRUE APPLES TO APPLES COMPARISON! Chances are that if there is a large price difference from legitimate contractors, someone missed something!
J. Schwartz,llc offers a full service design-build process; it’s intention is to decrease designs cost, increase construction accuracy, and one of its bonuses is that it fast-tracks the whole process by integrating budgeting and design.

Call us – we can discuss the particulars of your project and how this can apply to you.

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 6:58 pm  

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

THIS MAKES 6!

J. Schwartz,llc was named one of the “TOP 500 REMODELERS” in the United States by Qualified Remodeler Magazine!This adds to the five other awards that were recently awarded to us – two CONTRACTOR OF THE YEAR AWARDS, TWO PINNACLE AWARDS, and a DREAM HOME AWARD.
We have been published in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, HOME AND GARDEN MAGAZINE, QUALIFIED REMODELER MAGAZINE, and others – and these are just the ones in 2008-2009!
We have some exciting projects going on now that we feel confident about winning awards for 2009-2010 – so keep in touch for more announcements!

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 6:24 pm  

Monday, August 17, 2009

We have added a web-based project management tool!

J. Schwartz,llc has added a web based project management and controls system to our management toolbox allowing for even higher levels of efficiency, accuracy and expediency.

Clients, subcontractors and consultants are issued screen-names and passwords and the information that they can see is custom tailored to their project role. The portal into the system is right on www.jschwartzconstruction.com and is labeled “client-center”.

This new system allows us to publish project information to the client, subcontractors, Architects, engineers and suppliers in real-time. It is a fully interactive, centralized place for all project related correspondence, drawings, specifications, and progress photos (that can be e-mailed directly from the system), and it automatically updates the home-owner and subcontractors of schedule changes via e-mail and text message!
The system also allows home-owners to make selections on-line in the “options” section; and when an option is approved, the related subcontractor is automatically notified of the approval of the selection; the change-order process works in much the same way – with automatic e-mails being sent as soon as the home-owner approves the change. Once the project is in “punch-list” phase, there is a scheduling, assignment and notification tool available to streamline that process, as well.

As you can see, even though the economy has slowed things down a bit, we see this period as an opportunity to make our business even more efficient, client and user friendly so that our responsiveness and accessibility are even better than before.

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 9:40 am  

Friday, May 1, 2009

J. SCHWARTZ,llc NAMED NATIONAL “BEST IN REMODELING” in 2009 DREAM HOME AWARDS!

J. Schwartz,llc was named one of the National “Best in Remodeling” by the Dream Home Awards for 2009 for Renovations above 4000 Square feet.
Click here to see more The awards were officially announced on May 1, 2009 and were published in the Wall Street Journal.
Dream Home Awards are presented to those companies and individuals who assist in creating America’s Dream Homes and set new standards of excellence in the Nation’s Building Industry. The competition is open to interior designers, architects, builders, remodelers, communities and trade contractors. Firms from across all 50 states are considered for custom home products, interior design, commercial and mixed-use projects as well as the prestigious Community of the Year, Home of the Year, Community Service of the Year. The Dream Home Awards also awards individual trades for unique products and services assisting the building process.
J. Schwartz,llc is proud to have been considered for and won this prestigous award.

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 6:36 pm  

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What does “Green” even mean?

The term “green” is a bit amorphous and does not really have a set definition; and this causes a problem with the idea of being green (in my opinion, anyway). The Green concept is based on things like using fast-growth materials so that we are not laying the land bare, using materials that are bio and photo-degradable so that we are not filling landfills, using recycled materials (for obvious reasons), using highly efficient materials in order to save energy, use locally grown materials to reduce the carbon footprint, using adhesives and chemicals that are not bad for the environment (formaldehyde, etc), using things like solar, thermal and wind energy, using materials in new ways that would have otherwise been thrown away (engineered lumber uses scrap wood), and this list goes on and on.
The problem comes in when you take a myopic look at something and are tempted to call it “green” based on only one of the criteria listed above. For example, one of the commonly used green materials is bamboo – but as far as I have been able to tell, a huge majority of the bamboo used in the U.S. is imported and importing creates a huge carbon foot -print. Maybe this should negate this from being a green product? Well, the truth is, I do not know…because I guess it is all relative.
Together, let’s take a challenge, and do a comparison and contrast of materials / methods that are being called green… Over the next months, I will try to come up with a “green grading system” that can be used to compare and contrast materials and methods that will give an easy to read “green score” so that we can decipher what is and what is not actually green. If anyone can help with methodology for figuring out carbon footprints, that would be very helpful, and any suggestions of items to be included in the list would be great too. Keep in touch and explore this with me in the weeks and months to come…

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 9:01 am  
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