“Mike built us a custom high end modern house in Ridgefield CT, and we would recommend him without reservations. It’s been four months since we moved in, and the house is beautiful and extremely comfortable despite a cold, windy and stormy winter. The house is almost 40% glass, and has about 5000+sf of conditioned space, but our heating costs are estimated to be a touch over 1K per year. The process was so much fun that we would almost be tempted to build another house now…except that we do love our house. BPC Green Builder’s focus is on building energy efficient, sustainable, healthy homes. But as you can see from the description below, this was just one of considerations for us when choosing a builder. Mike is an extremely capable builder who is also 10x better than any of the consultants on building a green house we talked to prior to choosing him. We have also seen one other house done in a more traditional style, and if it can be built well Mike can do it.
Trust: We started looking for builders after designing the house. We bid it out to 4 other builders and almost dropped BPC when they refused to bid on our project. It is not that they had another project lined up (this was 2009). They just don’t feel comfortable with the adversarial relationship that a bid process generates. To win it you have to low ball it, and then you have to make up for it by charging for change orders or for things which were not fully detailed in the bid (for which there will inevitably be lots!). The builder’s incentives then become to skimp on quality (particularly for the non aesthetic structural things which you will not see). Mike instead works on a management fee. He created a budget, and during the whole process he was a partner. Mike laid out options allowing us to choose every step of the way. The various stages of the construction are bid out to subcontractors, and we had full transparency on costs. Nothing during the process led us to ever question Mike’s honesty and transparency. The bottom line is that no matter what contract structure you chose, the builder will have opportunities to abuse your trust. Finding someone you are comfortable with makes all the difference.
Working with Mike: Mike was AWAYS AVAILABLE. Our house was his primary job for a year and there was NEVER a time that we felt that when we needed him he was not available. He is reasonable. He is a great problem solver. Down to earth, and extremely easy to talk to. E-mails were detailed. Site meetings were great, etc. Awesome.
Quality: We picked BPC because we wanted more than an aesthetically beautiful house. We wanted a structurally sound house. We wanted to have no water leaks, no mold, and no air quality issues (we have respiratory issues AND pets). We also cared to make sure that we would fully consider the environmental impacts of building the house, but for such a huge investment we really wanted sound construction. Mike and Chris passion is quality in this sense of the word. And it was clear from day one when we spoke to them, and it was clear through out the process that focusing on making sure that house was air tight, that water would drain properly and that structurally the construction was sound was a priority. Mike spent an incredible amount of time at the construction site, making sure that the various trades conformed to his standards. And of course he recommend contractors that could deliver. Unlike most builders Mike has not only the experience of having built homes for a long time, but also the scientific knowledge to assess and incorporate the latest technologies in the industry. From an aesthetic perspective the execution was very good as well. Mike had never built a modern house, and that there is a lot less room to hide imperfections (we opted for drywall returns instead of window moldings for example), so this was a challenging house. We have a beautiful house. And one that is unlikely to give us headaches.
Cost: Mikes management fees were in line with, or less than other high end builders we interviewed. However, to be honest we have no way to know whether the total house would have cost more or less working with someone else. And given the choice between a little less money and less structural and aesthetic quality we are happy to pay up (and pretty much knew what we were paying for in terms of insulation, or structural elements). Did the house come in on budget? No. This was a new construction and a very high percentage of the house was on earth work (to get the site ready for the house), which turned out to be more expensive than expected. All of the bids had provisions for this, so our best guess is that these costs had to be born out regardless of who built the house. We also of course ended up choosing a lot of things that were not listed (which probably would have killed us if we had contracted for a price). Ultimately I think that the pricing process was good and fair. Mike would scope out the work and bid out to 2-3 contractors (some of which were at times people our architect recommended or we found some other way – but always people that he believed could do the job after discussing with them). We would then chose between the bids (sometimes not choosing the cheapest based on Mike’s recommendation on quality). Inevitably when unexpected things came up, he made sure that the various contractors were not screwed…and in return the people working in our project were hard working, professional, and extremely qualified contractors. If building a house the cheapest possible way you can by squeezing every penny out of subcontractors is the way you want to build…Mike is probably not your guy. You will also almost certainly hate the building process and so will everyone working on your house. As said before we had total and complete transparency on costs, which you will never have in a bid out process. So we knew exactly what went into our house. The only thing I think Mike could have done better on this is giving us a realistic range from the beginning, but I am not sure whether our particular project (being very custom, having a lot excavation work, and having construction drawings that were probably less developed than typical) played a role.
Time: Expectations were that the house would be ready in about 12 months (though we never asked for a precise guarantee…). We moved in 13 months after we started, and there was a lot of work being done for about 6-8 weeks after. In retrospect we should have waited another month to move in (and would have if we had understood how much would happen after we moved in). Time was the least critical element for us. And we know that the more time pressure you put on your builder the more either cost or quality will suffer.
We did not know Mike prior to building our house and have no reason to recommend him other than for the great job he did on our project. If you are considering going on the same journey, we are happy to discuss and answer questions.
Some of our home features: highly insulated envelope (foam) and glass (U-0.14), insulated basement slab, foam roof system, geothermal heating/cooling (surprisingly affordable given how little heating the house needs…not oversized), radiant heating, fire sprinkler system (another recommendation from Mike), electronic air filter system, water radon reduction system (without being asked he tested our water – which was about 10x higher in radon than the max recommended), drywall returns and other intricate modern detail, high end carpentry work (pergolas and fence), two-sided inside/outside fireplace, stucco exterior, highly redundant drainage system (to avoid having leaks/rot – Mike took no chances), extensive tile flooring (heated and well executed) as well as bamboo flooring.”