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Passive / Pretty Good home builders

jkonst | Posted in General Questions on

Hi all,

Thanks for the super informative site and forum. I’ve learned a ton browsing here so far. I also recognize my question isn’t exactly in the DIY focus of this forum, but I thought it was worth asking. With that said:

I’m looking to build a ~3 BR/2.5 BA (<2k SF) house in the Catskills (Z6 – currently searching for land near Kingston, NY). My construction budget, excluding site work (clearing, septic, well, electric hookup) is around $550k. I’d like this to be a passive house (certified or not), or close to it. I have no DIY chops, so I want to have this fully contracted out.

Going the bespoke/local route seems pretty cost-prohibitive; I’m getting quoted $400-$600/SF plus site work, heavy design fees, etc., without even broaching the passive house subject. I have found a local builder who might work cost-wise, starting at $280/SF, but I’m not sold on their ability to deliver a super-tight and efficient house (though they do include an HRV as part of their standard).

So I’m now instead thinking of going the prefab route, using a standard design from an established firm. The contenders I’ve found so far are:

– Ecocor: passive houses, I think within my budget if I stick with one of their “Solsken” designs. Example: https://www.solsken.us/plans/tulip
– Unity: subsidiary of Bensonwood – not passive, but they might fit the Pretty Good criteria. Some of their designs do have a lot of thermal bridges, I think? Example: https://unityhomes.com/floor-plans/zum-354/
– Go Home: passive houses. Example: https://thegohome.us/plans-options/plans/1700-ft2/

I think the process with any of these companies would be similar – they would deliver a shell, put some or all of it together, and then hand off the rest of the work to a local contractor. I haven’t had great success getting replies from any of these companies (Unity has followed up once, at least), which is a bit concerning, but perhaps is just summer or remote-work slowness.

My questions are:

– Does anyone have experience with any of these companies? They all seem reputable, but hearing any sort of comparison of the build process, quality, etc. would be really helpful.
– Are there any other similar companies that service NY state that are worth checking out? I’ve found a couple others that are pricier, and the rest I’ve found are far enough way that it probably wouldn’t make sense – but I’d be interested to hear about other options.
– If finding a local builder seems like something I should pursue further, does anyone have good leads or ways to find builders/designers who would be able to deliver what I’m hoping for?
– Are there any resources, forums, etc. you’d recommend to learn more?

Any other advice (including “your expectations are unrealistic!”) would also be welcomed.

Thanks!

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Replies

  1. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #1

    JK, I am familiar with all three companies. In fact I used to work at Ecocor, designed their Tulip model you linked to and was on site to build their first panelized project in Bearsville, near Kingston. (I was originally going to build the Tulip for myself but bought an old farmhouse instead. I often wonder what it would be like to live in that house!)

    I am reasonably familiar with the Bensonwood and GO Logic systems; they all do excellent work. Unfortunately I can't help you with local builders. I'm not sure if they service that area but BrightBuilt Homes is worth considering as well--their standard performance package is lower than the other companies', but still Pretty Good or close to it. To hit your budget and not spend on design fees you won't be able to make significant changes to stock plans. Good luck!

    1. jkonst | | #3

      Very cool, and I love your design! I'm trying to figure out if I could squeeze in a small study somehow, but agreed I'll need to not rack up design fees to make my budget.

      I had checked out BrightBuilt but am hoping for something a bit more contemporary - though perhaps that's doable with some design work, given the potentially lower starting cost.

      Thanks for all the advice!

      1. Expert Member
        Michael Maines | | #5

        Thanks! My plan was to eventually add a first floor bedroom or study on the north side, accessed through a doorway where the powder room is shown. The powder room would move to the addition, or possibly into the mechanical room area.

        If you are just looking for pre-designed homes, Robert Swinburne's Vermont Simple House line might suit you: https://www.vermontsimplehouse.com/vsh-plans/vsh1. Emily Mottram also has a line: https://www.mottramarch.com/semi-custom, as do Holland and Foley Architects: https://www.hollandandfoley.com/small-planet-homes/. They are all friends of mine and do great work. Emily often works with Bensonwood for her projects, but none of them offer construction services.

        Many traditional-looking homes can be made to look more modern by simply changing some details.

        1. jkonst | | #7

          Yeah, I had a very similar thought on that addition idea. That would be just about the perfect design for me if I could work that out.

          Thanks for the ideas on the pre-designed homes, as well. That isn't really something I had considered, but seems like a good idea if I could find the right contractor!

  2. Sam S | | #2

    BrightBuilt is another option, also in Maine. They are associated with Kaplan Thompson Architects, so perhaps you could have a full custom vs prefab conversation with them at the same time.
    https://www.brightbuilthome.com/
    https://www.kaplanthompson.com/

    Robert Swinburn is pretty close (lower half of VT).
    https://www.bluetimecollaborative.com/

    Edward Nugent might be worth reaching out to, he might know a local designer. Of my recommendations, this is the only one I haven't met/worked with in the past:
    https://nugentcm.carbonmade.com/about

    EDIT: Michael beat me above to the BrightBuilt recommendation, that's what happens when I leave tabs open and go make coffee.

    1. jkonst | | #4

      This is great, thanks for the recommendations. I didn't realize the BrightBuilt-Kaplan Thompson connection, so it's probably worth reaching out to see how they could customize the look to make it feel more contemporary. I hadn't heard of Robert Swinburn or Edward Nugent, and both seem promising, as well. Thanks!

  3. Dan Kolbert | | #6

    Might want to reach out to Patrick & Lillian at Building Logic in Gardiner, too. I think Lillian is on the board of Hudson Valley PassivHaus.

    1. jkonst | | #8

      Thanks, I will check them out!

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