Here are a few questions we have received from prospective clients about our residential designs that we thought might be of interest to you. We welcome your questions. You might see your question appear on a future edition of this page!
General Operations Q+A
Where are your custom green home projects located and what size range do you design in?
Sunlight homes have been built in almost every western state and in many states in the midwest and the east. They have ranged in size from 700 to 7,000 square feet and have been designed in nearly every exterior style. Some have been built in large towns, some in small, some are somewhat remote, others are very remote and zero energy, off the power grid. Some sites are at sea level, others at 8000′ elevation. We’ve had owner/builders, small time contractors and medium sized contractors build our homes.
How many homes have you designed?
It’s hard to count anymore, but well over 400. We’re a small company and prefer to work on just a few projects at any given time.
Have you had success in finding good contractors to build your homes?
Absolutely! Good contractors, and now even eco home builders, are everywhere and it’s not difficult to find them if you ask the right questions. We like to interview the contractors our clients are considering. Since we have built homes ourselves, we ask questions that help us get a good feel for their experience and, sometimes more importantly, their values. We pass this information on to our clients, who make the final decision.
We’ve learned a lot about how to set up successful building projects and we pass this information on to our customers. We make sure the budget is realistic. We help our clients choose a good builder. We design the home well so that it can be built well. If the initial conditions are right, the rest falls into place.
What problems have you encountered building your homes?
The vast majority of our projects have gone very smoothly and we have hundreds of happy customers to show for it. Sometimes there are weather or delivery delays and sometimes we have to work more closely with a builder or an owner/builder, but this is just part of the job. Building a green custom home is always more of a challenge than building a subdivision using the same plan over and over. That’s why our plans are drawn with more detail. Occasionally mistakes happen and yet they can always be corrected. We help our clients handle any issues the arise during construction. They are building a Sunlight home, after all!
We are looking for a lot that takes full advantage of your design philosophy and approach. What is the best lot orientation for a solar home in my area, considering street access?
A lot with good southern exposure is the best place to start since a solar home needs south-facing windows to collect solar heat. Typically, the rooms that get used during the day have southern exposure while bedrooms, garages, and secondary spaces are oriented in the other directions. If you want your south windows to face the street, choose a lot that is on the north side of an east-west street. If you would like south windows to face your back yard, choose a lot on the south side of the street. Lots with road access on the east and west work, too, as long as you have good southern exposure. Your main living spaces will still face south.
We will fine-tune solar calculations for the climate during design. The only thing we try to avoid is a north entry because they are dark and uninviting in all climates. Even a house on the south side of a east-west street can have the entry on the north east or north west side, which solves that problem.
We will be designing our home from a distance. How does this work?
Location is not a problem with the services we provide. We have designed Sunlight homes across the country, from coast to coast for many years and have refined the process of communication during design and construction. After our initial site visit, which takes place at your building location, design is done in our office and sent to you (frequently) for review. Once construction begins, the Component Package items are drop-shipped from the manufacturer to your building site when your contractor needs them. All of the other finish materials are provided by a local contractor of your choice. Fortunately, any competent builder can build a SIP home. We recommend that you find a builder whom you like and trust and who is interested in building a SIP home. We will give them the information they need to build the home successfully. We are always available to consult with you and your builder.
We like a rustic style and want some exposed beams, or a timber frame design. I don’t see many photos on your web site that show this style. Can you design a home in the style we are after?
A rustic look, timber frame design, or any other style you choose is designed into the home from the beginning then augmented with appropriate finishes—perhaps rough-hewn beams in your case. Since SIP panel construction naturally lends itself to vaulted ceilings, we have designed many homes with lofts. Our job is to design a structure that fits your land, your budget, and your lifestyle in your desired style. The photos on our site are a small sample of our work. We have a Japanese-style home in southern California, a New England saltbox on the east coast, plenty of mountain homes in the Rockies and some country ranches and prairie homes in the Midwest. We have also designed contemporary homes, Southwestern style adobe homes, and the list goes on.
Are there any Sunlight homes in our area that we can see?
We wish we could say yes to this, but our homes are all occupied by past clients and we want to respect their privacy. If you are interested to see an example of our design work, consider the home of our owner, Evan Davis… in learning more about us let’s talk about your options! We can certainly have a conversation by phone or Skype. Many of our past clients have come to Albuquerque to meet us before they signed the contract. We meet others at their project site after they’ve signed a contract and paid the first payment. This is all up to you. We love it when people come to meet us, however. It’s really nice to have a lengthy discussion about your project and how we’d be able to work with you. We’ll also show you our home/office so you can get a first hand feeling of a Sunlight home. We’re only 45 minutes from Santa Fe, so you can plan an extra day to see the “city different”!
If you’d like references, we we’d be happy to supply them… just let us know!
Can you do a timber frame design?
Absolutely! Timber frame homes are beautiful and the SIP building system works well with timber frame design. The wood accents give a timber frame home a personality all its own. Timber frame homes do cost quite a bit more, however, and if you’re on a budget there are things you can do to add the warmth of wood without putting it into the structure as with timber frame design. Ask us for details!
How is plumbing and electrical done in a SIP panel home?
Sunlight homes are designed so that most of the plumbing and a lot of the wiring is run in the crawlspace under the floor and through interior frame walls.
Usually some wiring is necessary in the exterior SIP walls for switches, lights and plugs. Most panel manufacturers build conduit into the panels and wiring is fished through the conduit once the structure is erected. The interior skin of the sip is cut and the foam carved out to make room for the receptacles and switch boxes. We’ve found that electricians have some difficulty doing this and they often charge extra for the trouble.
In our homes we nail 2”x2″ wood furring strips vertically every 16″ and leave a space at the bottom of each strip. The wiring is stapled directly to the inside OSB skin of the panel. Shallow electrical boxes are used because they don’t require cutting into the panels. Once the wiring is run, the drywall is applied to the furring strips. This method simplifies the electrical work and remodeling and meets code. It also makes future remodeling much easier.
Much less often, but on occasion, there is no where else to run plumbing but on an exterior wall (plumbing vents being the most common culprit). Depending on the size of the required piping we fur out the wall with 2×2’s or 2×4’s to create the space needed.
How long does it take to build a Sunlight Home?
Our custom design process usually takes 3 to 6 months from concept through working drawings. Design time can vary depending on the size and complexity of the home, our work load and our clients’ availability. It is important to us that, once a design is begun, it continues at a reasonable pace until it is finished. This is important for design continuity.
In most situations, construction of a Sunlight home takes from 4-8 months depending on the size and complexity of the project, weather and availability of local labor. Panelized construction is often thought to be a fast way to build, but our experience has been that it doesn’t really make much of an impact on the overall length of a project. Besides, the reason you build a panel home is for the comfort, strength and energy efficiency of the finished product; not the construction time.
My realtor thought I would have a hard time finding a development that would allow me to build a “manufactured structure.” Is this a common theme from potential clients?
Thirty five+ years ago, when we first started building SIP homes, we always had to educate banks and architectural review boards about SIP homes. Once they understood our construction method, we were easily accepted. In fact, we have never been denied acceptance—even in areas with very strict covenants and restrictions.
These days SIP homes are understood by developments, review boards and banks. They have now developed a prescriptive building method for SIPs which makes the approval process even more streamlined. If you run into anyone who needs info on SIPs, just send them to our web site, or Murus (our panel manufacturer), or to the Structural Insulated Panel Association web site.
We are thinking about building a rastra or rammed earth or straw bale or adobe or concrete (pick one) home. Can you design it for us?
We design Sunlight homes exclusively for SIPs. Our homes are designed to be extremely energy efficient so using another building system would mean a whole different design approach.
SIPs give us more flexibility and opportunity in design. SIP roof systems don’t use trusses, so vaulted ceilings and lofts are a natural result. Windows can be placed closer together in a SIP home and the south glass to floor area ratios stay the same in every Sunlight SIP project. We have become very experienced at designing homes for SIP construction and our end product is consistently high quality. We don’t want to tinker with a system that works this well by introducing a different building system to the mix. It would be an option, however, to build an adobe or rammed earth wall inside the home for aesthetic reasons. It would also be good thermal mass.
Can we remodel or add onto our Sunlight SIP home?
SIP homes can be modified or remodeled like any other building system. Ask your remodeling contractor to contact us or our panel manufacturer for details.
If a future addition is planned from the beginning, we can make the remodel easier (and less expensive) later. For example, the panel wall that adjoins the future addition could be pre-planned for a doorway. Utilities could be stubbed into this wall for easy expansion later. Even without advanced planning, additions or modifications are no more difficult than with any other building system, and in some cases they are easier.
We’d like to use reclaimed materials or finish materials we’ve obtained elsewhere in our home. Is this possible?
The only materials we supply with our Component Package are for the exterior shell. All other materials are supplied by you and/or your builder. You certainly can use whatever materials you want in your new home. It’s your home, after all, and this is one of the benefits of building custom.
Your homes are a bit more expensive than standard homes and we’re on a budget. How can we make this work for us?
Deciding where to put your money in a new home project is an individual matter and depends on your priorities. You should consider the finished size of your home, the quality of the components and your budget. If any one of these is fixed, the others should be flexible in order for your project to work.
The single biggest factor in determining the ultimate cost of a home is size, so think smaller if you’re on a budget. We’ve had customers build a smaller home to start, then add on later when their resources allowed. With this approach, we’ve found that it’s best to design the whole home from the beginning. When this is carefully done, the first phase structure will look and function as a complete home. Utility stub-ins can be economically installed with the original plumbing and electrical work. This will make the future addition easier and will save money later.
If you are on a budget, let’s talk. We can find out your needs, wants and priorities and will recommend options. When you’re building a new home, options are plentiful, and we’ll help you discover which make sense for you.
How do you design for our budget?
We are residential custom designers but having a current, working knowledge of building methods, materials and costs is a big factor in our being able to accurately design for your budget. Construction knowledge also allows us to design homes that are more straightforward to build. Our Cost Estimate Worksheet addresses the details necessary to price a home more accurately. See the Cost Estimate Worksheet page in this section for details.
Are there any other ways we can trim costs on our new home?
It is our opinion that the places NOT to trim costs are in the design and the structural shell of your home, because these are the items that are costly, if not impossible, to change later. Many of your finishes can be upgraded or added to in the future when your finances allow; such as flooring, lighting and even appliances and cabinetry.
Why do small homes cost more per square foot?
Small homes can’t take advantage of the economies of scale that are possible with larger homes. Small homes have a kitchen and baths (which are the more expensive rooms in a home) and have fewer bedrooms and less space in the living areas (the less expensive rooms in a home) so the result is a higher cost per square foot. The overall cost of a smaller home is always less than a larger one, however, so don’t let the higher square foot numbers scare you. This is true with any type of home from any company.
Can we finance our Sunlight home with a conventional mortgage?
Yes. Our homes are financed just like any other custom home. Some lending institutions want to understand more about our homes. Refer them to our web site or have them give us a call and we’ll provide the information they need.