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Q&A Spotlight

We’re Building a New House. Where Do We Start?

Burned out of their original home, an Oregon couple confronts the challenges of rebuilding

A blank slate: Evan is planning a new house to replace the one that burned in a Washington State wildfire. What kind of house should it be? And how does Evan find the right person to build it? Photo courtesy Evan.

Last September, Evan W lost his home near Portland, Oregon, to wildfire, and now he faces a problem he never expected to have: How does someone go about deciding what kind of house to build, and who should build it?

“We’re planning to rebuild on the existing site,” Evan writes in this recent Q&A Spotlight. “I had never expected to build a new house, only to gradually improve the 60-year-old home we had. That’s all changed now.”

Evan is certain he wants a high-performance home, but whether that means Passive House or Pretty Good House is up in the air. Neither he nor his partner is a building professional, so they are a little concerned about how they can ensure high-quality building practices, and where they might start looking for a builder.

“If you were shopping for building professionals for your own house, what questions would you ask to identify the right firms for your project?” Evan asks. “What questions do you wish your customers would ask you when they’re shopping for building professionals? Sorry to ask such naive questions but this has thrown me completely beyond my comfort zone.”

Evans questions, of course, are not naive, but well founded and no doubt shared by many others daunted by the prospect of building a new home.

So, how does he proceed? That’s the topic for this Q&A Spotlight.

Take your time finding a builder

Whatever you do, William Hullsiek tells Evans, don’t rush the decision on who will build the house. “Make sure you trust their judgment, as they will be spending your money,” he says. “You do not want to regret your decision.”

He suggests that Evan walk through several houses a prospective builder has done, and ask a lot…

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  1. charlie_sullivan | | #1

    This is a great collection of advice, most of it applicable to anyone contemplating a new build. I've bookmarked it as somewhere to send people who ask similar questions.

    Good choice to lead with "don’t rush the decision on who will build the house," from William Hullsiek. His advice to “Make sure you trust their judgment, as they will be spending your money,” he says. “You do not want to regret your decision.” is spot on.

  2. user-723121 | | #2

    My advice for building customers is to spend a lot of time planning. Know what you are trying to achieve before you start construction. With all of the modeling tools available you can view your proposed build in 3D. Experienced, high performance builders are out there, seek them out. A good builder will run through all of the possible scenarios ahead of time , giving the customer choices without pressure.

  3. Deleted | | #3


  4. verygood | | #4

    I highly recommend checking out Zero Energy Ready Oregon's (ZERO) '7 Cost Effective Steps to Zero Energy' website below. There are a list of how and why including resources for those looking to build to zero energy. I will back Armando's suggestion of the Sustainable Homes Professional course (I am a bit biased being one of the instructors) as this is one of the best resources in the PNW for getting to know the how and why behind high performance building. This could really help get you the background and language necessary to work collaboratively with your designer and builder. Also, remember that good homes start with a good design and I would highly recommend looking for a Design-Build approach to delivering your new home.

    Please feel free to reach out to ZERO as there has been discussions about how to help people specifically affected by the recent wildfires.

  5. jameshowison | | #5

    To add to decisions :) Consider the embodied carbon, especially over the next 25 years, not just the long term impacts.

    I’d love to see more resources and coverage on that. are there house specific decision tools like BEOpt for embodied carbon yet?

  6. T_Barker | | #6

    Assuming you have the budget, I would always look for the very best builder in your area. The one that keeps coming to the top of everyone's list when you ask around while looking at new builds. You can figure it out pretty quickly with a bit of leg work. You'll pay a premium, but worth every penny in my opinion. Obviously, if you're in a big city and the "best" means a builder who only does $20 million celebrity homes, that's not who I'm talking about.

    The problem you're going to find is many good builders are not up to speed on the latest high performance trends. So if that's a key component (and I think it should be) you may want to go to an Architect/Engineer or a good Designer who focuses on high performance houses.

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