Courtesy BYHYU

Currently being constructed in Arkansas, The Ultimate Idea House is being developed according to the standards of the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) and will be a tangible demonstration of many materials and methods discussed on the educational home building podcast Build Your House Yourself University (BYHYU).

The home will indeed be the ultimate example of some of the most attainable, high-performance options in residential construction, but the project is also proving to be the ultimate representation of endurance and perseverance in the face of adversity.

The project has faced schedule-altering struggles from its inception. It was plagued in the pre-construction/excavation phase by record rains that caused the overflow of the Arkansas River. There were also soil instabilities that mandated an unexpected foundation redesign. As reported in the last project update, the construction team wisely used the time gained due to delays to incorporate design features that increased the home’s resilience.

Steady progress was being made on the home’s retaining wall foundation redesign when the project was stalled again. This time the stall was due to the most unforeseen, uncontrollable circumstance imaginable—a global pandemic.

Because construction workers were deemed “essential” in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdowns, work on the Ultimate Idea House never completely ceased. However, the coronavirus pandemic has caused significant construction slowdowns.

Interestingly, the amount of construction in the Little Rock area didn’t decrease because of the pandemic. Instead, Arkansas, like much of the country, saw a sharp increase in home building and home improvement activities. COVID-related stay-at-home orders caused homeowners to spend more time in the house. While house-bound, owners dreamed of ways of making their homes more multifunctional, recreational, and comfortable. Record-low mortgage rates spurred homeowners to make their dreams a reality. As a result, many new builds and remodels were initiated, putting even greater strain on area trades that were already in short supply.

Courtesy BYHYU

For the Idea House, this meant fewer crew members on the jobsite for completion of excavation, retaining wall, and foundation work. In addition, there were multiple days when tradespeople were complete no-shows because they were trying to juggle multiple jobs. By the end of summer 2020, the slab was complete and it was time to order lumber.

Average lumber prices nearly tripled from mid-April to late August. Prices moved from a low in April of $348 per thousand board feet to more than $900 per thousand board feet in August. This price surge added more than $16,000 to the price of the average single-family home, according to the NAHB. Several tens of thousands of dollars would be added to larger, higher-end homes like the Ultimate Idea House.

Stay-at-home orders dictated that some lumber mills close, causing lumber shortages. Mills that stayed open were tasked with keeping workers safe and socially distanced, resulting in fewer workers on site and reduced lumber processing. In addition, most mills made the decision to decrease their operations because industry experts initially predicted a big drop in construction. As we are now well aware, that prediction was wrong. Lumber was soon in very short supply and in great demand, causing prices to soar.

Instead of making a potentially budget-busting lumber purchase at the peak of those historically high prices, the Ultimate Idea House's team decided to wait. The hope was that prices would decrease during the fall season.

While framing was put on hold, other details of the project were completed. The site’s long driveway was regraded, utilities were put in place, and plans for improved air tightness and air quality were finalized. A decision was made to use Aeroseal/Aerobarrier to seal the home and its ducts to achieve an air leakage rate of less than 1.0 ACH. With such a tight building envelope, mechanical ventilation becomes a necessity. An Ultra Aire ventilating dehumidifier was deemed the best solution for the warm, humid climate of central Arkansas.

Courtesy BYHYU

Framing is now well underway. The lumber was purchased in December. It was about 20% more than the pre-pandemic quote—a modest price increase that was well worth the wait compared with what could have been invested at the peak of lumber pricing.

At its completion, this case study house will be scored using the RESNET HERS Index. Unfortunately, pandemic delays preclude presentation of this project at this year’s RESNET Building Performance Conference, which is now virtual. However, there are plans to discuss the building envelope and construction details of the home at RESNET’s 2022 conference.

To learn more about the house and follow its progress, look for project updates at Builderonline.com, BYHYU.com/ultimateideahouse, or on Instagram @ultimateideahouse.