Custom Home, Custom Problems

More and more studies show the lack of consumer confidence in the housing market as a whole. The steep decline in home values along with the weak performance of the stock market has consumers reinvesting in their existing homes. These studies are backed by the increase in demand for remodeling as well as in the demand for custom-built homes. Smart consumers are educating themselves on re-inventing their dream home concept; home builders are in a race to scrap the cookie-cutter subdivisions in favor of the custom home market.

Savvy customers want more space and lower utility bills. One of the problems with this trend is the home builders or re-modelers inability to match their current construction practices with the demands of today’s consumer. Low E windows and sliding glass doors combined with good insulation practices is a great start. Unfortunately the new dream home often gets a cheap heating and air conditioning system, and the consumer is left with a space that they cannot fully ENJOY.

A recent comfort audit was conducted on the addition to the home of a new client. In square footage alone, the addition was so large it could be classified as a free-standing custom home. The client occupied this space for more than a year before he reached out to us for help.

His problems were far too common, ranging from uncomfortable areas to poor performance from his hot water system to other comfort imbalances. After investing large sums of money with both the contractor and his heating and air conditioning crew and numerous call backs, he was fed up! He needed to know why his house was working the way it WAS and how to fix it.

What I saw made me sick to my stomach. Something about this business makes me take everything way to personal. The installation of his multiple furnace and air conditioners as well as boiler and water heating system screamed “budget-build”. I conceded that the companies involved knew how to make the equipment turn on, but they could NOT make the components work; no engineering in this design. The forward thinking architect was responsible for the concept, unfortunately the heating and air conditioning engineering was left to the bidding contractors. That would be like building a brand new car and putting in an engine designed for a car built in the 1960’s. It may look good – and drives – but it won’t be your ideal daily ride and over the long haul it will cost you big time.

It’s sooo important that the client who is going to be living in the home have his/her say in every aspect of the project to some degree. I realize it’s impractical for most of us to act as your own general contractor, but you shouldn’t blindly trust the opinion of your general contractor. Make sure that you are getting experts involved in everything from design to installation practices.

In the case of the mammoth addition, I was able to follow the usual trail of clues leading to the source of the problems the client was experiencing. Lack of mechanical design by an expert had lead to wild-ass guessing by the HVAC contractor. Airflow requirements to make each room comfortable and provide even temperatures were not met. “Rule of thumb” does not work, and certainly did not work in this case. Computerized modeling + larger ductwork = even room temperatures and happy client.

My next task was to investigate why the homeowner was having so many issues with the hot water heating system. The system was a-typical for residential, but more in line with what you would find at a health club or in a small hotel. It consisted of a boiler and holding tank. This combination is capable of supplying endless hot water and radiant in-floor heating. The client complained that he could not rely on it for tasks as small as a three minute hot shower. In fact, things had gotten so bad for a stretch of time that he sent his family to stay at a hotel. The contractor was unable to get the system operating consistently because he could not figure out the root of the problem. We corrected the pumping and piping issues and Walla problem solved. A good concept needed good engineering.

At Corcoran Heating and Air Conditioning, we have learned so much and gotten to where we are because we continually test. If you don’t test you’re just guessing. Thanks to new design procedures, we can design the ideal indoor environment. We also keep on top of things in our field, and will continue to do so.

For all of your new construction or remodeling projects, find the right general contractor, and demand excellence. Be sure to check references to find out if their clients are comfortable and happy with the end result. Check with the Illinois States attorney’s office. These resources are invaluable to your decision making process. Also, do not settle for working with the general contractor’s own sub-contractors. Stick with the companies you are comfortable with, and never hesitate to get a second opinion; it’s your money! Make sure you get what you’re paying for!


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