The Mechanical Phase
Now that we are wrapping up the framing stage of your home, it’s time to start the “mechanical phase”. If we look at the framing stage as one that creates the skeleton of the home, then the mechanical stage creates the inner workings that are surrounded and protected by that skeleton. There are 3 parts to the mechanical phase: Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC), Plumbing and Electrical. Each of these elements are very important in their own right, as evidenced by the fact that each of these trades must carry a specialty Master’s License which is only earned after years of study, practical experience and some rigorous testing by the government officials. This kind of license is not necessary for most of the other trades – such as carpentry, roofing, concrete, etc… This is also a time in the project where the scrutiny by the County inspectors is at its highest. We have more inspections during the mechanical phase than at any other time during the construction of your home. Things will appear to be going rather slowly in that it takes time to get these “innards” in place, and we cannot overlap the tradesmen to any great degree.
The Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning mechanics are the first ones to start in the mechanical phase. The main reason for this is that their work is the bulkiest of all three. The heating ducts are much larger and take up more space than the plumbing or electrical. Therefore, we let them go first so that they can pick their routes for the ductwork and then the other trades have to work around them. (HVAC men are often referred to as “tin knockers”).
The ductwork on the second floor will be coming out of the ceiling and will be fed by the attic HVAC unit. The location of these ducts (as well as those on the first floor) have been calculated on a computer to make sure that the heating and cooling is uniform throughout the home. The ductwork on the first floor generally comes out of the floor and by this time, we will have reviewed this layout with you so that we can minimize any conflicts we might have with your furniture placement. We will also be coordinating with the “tin knockers” the selections you made that will affect his work – such as the range hoods, downdraft cooktops, etc…
When you purchased your home, we probably talked about our “Code Plus” policy. This policy involves things that Foley Construction does that exceed any of the codes in order to give our customers a home that not only meets the requirements, but also exceeds them. Some of these Code Plus items are implemented in the HVAC of your home. Some of the extra things that we have included are vibration dampers in the attic units and lengthened return air ducts lined with sound attenuation blankets to keep things quiet. We also have oversized ducts and registers so that the entire home can be heated and cooled to within a 3 degree range, exhaust fans in all bathrooms with 2 in the Master Bath, high-efficiency 90 furnace and multiple return air grills for higher efficiency and sound control. High SEER Air Conditioners for energy efficiency are also standard in our homes. Pull down attic stairs and a large work platform in attic for upper unit maintenance will make your life a little easier once you move in. The HVAC crew’s work will take a week and a half to two weeks.
Toward the end of the duct installation, it would be a good idea for you to go through the home and check one more time to make sure that the ducts and registers are not in conflict with any of your furniture placements. It’s much easier to move them at this stage then to do it after drywall.
The Plumbing trade follows the HVAC trade. Their work will also take a week and a half to two weeks. You may see both crews in the house at the same time, depending on the schedules. (You may hear the plumbers affectionately referred to as “Tu__d Hearders”). The first job we have with the plumber is to coordinate all the selections that you’ve made in regards to the plumbing fixtures, cabinets and appliances so that once the home is drywalled all the holes will be in the right place, and all the behind-the-wall support mechanisms will be there to take care of the all the “shiny stuff” once we hook everything up. What the plumber is doing may look rather random, but we will be locating the pipes that will serve the toilets, vanities, sinks, etc., with a great degree of accuracy by taking the specification sheets from your “shiny stuff” selections, as well as the cabinet layout that you previously approved. This is all coming together because of the efforts that you put in into making all those selections earlier in the project. I hope you can see now why selection schedules are so important, because if the plumber could not run his pipes because he did not know exactly where they went, then his operation would come to a standstill. Due to your good efforts, and those of Lyn, we now have the information that we need so that this operation will run smoothly. Some of the Code Plus items that you will see during he plumbing operation include copper pipe for water supply, instead of butyl as used by many builders. We also use oversized copper pipe to increase water flow and water pressure, in lieu of ½” pipe, as used by many builders. Careful location of large, plastic drainpipes also helps to minimize sound in the formal areas of the home. Since the plumber also installs the gas piping in the house, you will notice that we do this with threaded cast iron pipe instead of the flexible plastic that is used by most of the builders in our area. We feel that since we are moving volatile gas into your home, we need to do it in the safest way possible. The companies that advertise the flexible plastic gas pipe show in their ads how $2.50 worth of labor and material with iron pipe can be done for $.50 using flexible gas pipe. We believe that their ad only proves our point that to do it right costs a little more money. We have always been concerned about plastic piping that could be punctured by sharp edges or by an errant nail that could penetrate the wall now or in the future, allowing gas to escape into the home. Once the cast iron pipe is in place, it’s there forever, and is immune from damage from nails, sharp edges, etc… Kids, now that’s another thing altogether!
Also, at the plumbing stage, we will be installing the exterior hose faucets. These should have been previously located on your plan, but now is a good time to check to make sure that you have the right number in the right places. This again is much easier to fix now than after we drywall the home.
At the end of our plumbing operation, we perform a water test that is not required by most municipalities (“code plus”). We fill all the pipes in the house, including the stacks, wastes and even the vents (which only move air) from the basement all the way to the roof of the home. We let this set for 24 hours, and then carefully inspect the home to see if any leaks are present so that they can be fixed before the drywall operation starts.
Home plans can be obtained in many different ways. You can engage an architect or a design/builder to create your plans. Either one can make modifications on some existing plans that they own or start with a blank piece of paper and create a totally unique design. Plans can also be obtained from plan books that are available in most bookstores and online. Plans can also be created by combining many different ideas from many different sources into a unique plan that fits your needs. Many times the custom home plan process is actually a combination of the above. One word of caution. You need to be very careful that you are dealing with an honorable design team so that the very strict house plan copyright laws are not violated in your design process. If a copyright is violated the penalties can be very severe for the designer, the homeowner, and the builder. The home design process should not start until an overall budget review has been agreed upon between the owner and the design team. Before the first pencil meets paper, the designer and owner must come to a general agreement as to what the overall size of the home should be, the general specifications and what the overall budget is for the structure and finishing items. National statistics indicate that if this policy is not followed then the money and time put into the design process probably will not end up in a home being built. Over 50% of the people that come to our office that have already purchased their lot and have a completed set of plans end up never building their dream home, because the overall cost for the plan vastly exceeds their budget. We have many customers that have invested between $10,000 and $150,000 and up to two years of their time putting a set of plans together only to find out from us in one-half hour that they are so far over their budget that the plans have to be thrown away. Unfortunately this happens all too often, but with the aide of an experienced design team, you can guard against doing this.
Perhaps, the most infectious disease in the custom home process is the “while you’re at it” syndrome. Everyone is guilty of this including architects, builders, and homeowners. The syndrome works like this… “While you are at it,” let’s add a 4th garage, because that would be really nice. “While you are it,” let’s put in 2 dishwashers and 2 refrigerators. “While you are at it,” let’s make the library 10′ bigger in each direction. etc, etc.
Having a builder involved in the design process from the start should help avoid the potential for significant budget over runs.
The electrical mechanics (“sparky”) are the last of the licensed mechanical tradesmen to work their magic in your home. Prior to them beginning their work, you will have gone through several meetings with the light fixture consultant, as well as Lyn Foley to ascertain what kind of light fixtures would be appropriate for your home and where you would like them to be placed. We also will have discussed how and where you want them switched. Shortly before the electricians get started, you will have also gone through an on-site electrical pre-walk through. At this meeting, the electrical plan that has previously been agreed upon will be refined in the 3D atmosphere of a framed in home. At the beginning of this stage, we look very carefully at all the selections that you’ve made that require electricity. This, of course, will include your light fixtures and appliances, but also involves cabinetry and tops as well. Because each fixture and appliance has a special way that it needs to be installed, we need to be sure that we have the correct wire in the size and location that is necessary to service each of your selections. Again, I hope you can see how critical it is for us to have the selections done early, so that our office can line up all this information and have it ready for the electrical tradesmen prior to them getting started so that everything will run smoothly. This is the time to finalize the location of fixtures. As the “sparky” finishes up his work, it would be a good idea for you to walk the home again with your plan to make sure that you haven’t forgotten anything or that we haven’t missed anything. It’s also a good time to make sure that the switches and plugs do not conflict with, but complement the placement of your furnishings. If you have any floor-plugs (electrical and/or phone), it is especially important that these be located in the exactly the spot that you want, especially if the area in the floor below is going to be finished. It is very difficult to move these plugs once the wiring is completed.
THE WORK CONTINUES…
Once all the mechanical trades have done their work, then the County Inspectors come in and carefully review everything we’ve done and make sure that it complies with the local and national codes. At that time, the County Inspectors will also carefully inspect the framing of the home to make sure that that has also been done correctly as well. Once we receive the bulk of those inspections, we will then insulate the home, have that work inspected, and then we will start drywall. The entire operation from the start of the mechanical work to the initiation of the drywall phase will be about 4 to 5 weeks, depending on the weather and the available manpower. During this time, we probably will also be working on the exterior wall finish on your home and getting the roof shingles wrapped up so that the interior envelope will be nice and dry prior to the installation of insulation and drywall. We should also be buttoning up your windows and doors as well. The exterior finishing operation will go at least through the time that the mechanical trades are working and probably into the insulation and drywall phase. We will also be working on other exterior site work, such as the water and sewer systems for your home. We will also be trying to bring the utility lines to your home so that the gas, electric and phone will be operational as soon as possible. Once the HVAC system starts working, we can then start drying out the entire system that up to this time has been open to the weather.
Our next phase will be drywall and trim (called “close-in”), and we will discuss that in the future.