As the BUILDER Responsive Home project comes together in advance of the 2016 International Builders’ Show, Pardee Homes' Bill Hughes is busy procuring products, organizing delivery schedules, and identifying the right installation crews to get the work done in fine style. The tasks may be familiar, but there's a good amount of uncharted territory for all involved. Hughes, regional director of purchasing for Pardee Homes, shares with BUILDER his experience in overcoming the challenges of building a custom home, and why the Responsive Home project—which includes two houses—should be of particular interest to new-home builders going forward.
BUILDER: You've built a lot of houses. What makes the Responsive Home project different?
Bill Hughes: The most challenging thing is that we have to constantly remind ourselves that we're not building production homes. We have to set aside all our assumptions that the last 1,000 homes we did will have anything in common with this project. These really are custom homes.
The roofs of both of the homes in the project are good examples. The smaller home has a 10/12 pitch on the roof. Right there is something that's specifically designed to someone's vision. It's utilizing space in a different way than what we're used to for our designs. The larger house has a lot of linear design and some areas with more flat roofs, which we don't do out here. Both were extremely different and presented challenges when it came to framing. Some of the trusses had to be designed, so we needed to be able to call on our roofing contractor to take on those challenges.
BUILDER: How do you communicate those challenges to your contractors and trades crews?
Hughes: That was actually a really important thing for us to deal with when we asked our contractors to bid the jobs. We had to tell the painters we're going to be using upscale paint. The cabinets are going to be higher end. The trim will be higher end. So when we went to the foundation crews, the framers, and all the other trades, we had to explain to them that this isn't your ordinary production job where you see the same thing every week. This is special.
Once our contractors understood that, they were able to bid the jobs based on bringing in crews from the custom side of their businesses, and with the knowledge that these won't be in-and-out houses like we all do for production work.
The details of each phase of construction can constantly change, and our superintendent has been great about knowing that when the architects or the designers visit the site, they're probably going to want to make some changes. The last thing we want to do is have Bobby Berk's team or the team from Bassenian Lagoni have a bad experience on one of our projects. We want them to walk away and say, "That's just fantastic." To do that, we need to have contractors with the right level of experience on board from the start.
BUILDER: You mentioned incorporating some higher-end materials than you usually work with. Does that mean you're using some brands of products that are new to your process?
Hughes: For the Responsive Homes, we're working with several of the national accounts that we work with on the production side. Weyerhaeuser, Uponor, Carrier, and James Hardie are all brands we use nationally or regionally that have made contributions to the project.
Andersen Windows and the Gerber and Danze products for the bathrooms are examples of products that we don't normally use. Their price points might be a little higher than what we use for production, but again we're working with a series of higher-end finishes in these homes. So we're moving up the scale a little bit.
BUILDER: Do you anticipate that some of the design elements you're seeing in these custom homes for the Responsive Home project will make their way into the production homes you'll work on in the future?
Hughes: We're learning a lot about the story behind millennials and what home buyers in that age group want to have in a starter home and a move-up home. What Bobby Berk and Bassenian Lagoni have come out with really reacts to those discoveries of how millennials want their houses to flow, what they like, and how they want to live in their homes. We're really looking forward to having builders come out to see the Responsive Home during the show and say, "This is something we can apply to our product in the future." The millennial is a big percentage of the buyers in the country, so we need to have a solution for them.