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Building a Custom-Built Green Home: An Interview with Beth Cantin of Cantin HOMES

By Beth Cantin

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

We are a family owned and operated custom design/build firm. We specialize in energy-efficient waterfront homes in the Southwest Florida area.

What are some key questions for a "green" homeowner to ask before beginning the building process?

It is important to be sure you and your builder have the same expectations. You should ask to see some of the homes the builder has completed, as well as a home that is in the process of being built. My best advice to anyone getting ready to work with a builder for the first time is to ask for and call references. These references should be from a range of projects over several years. A homeowner that has lived in their home many years can tell you how their construction held up as well as if they would hire that builder again.

Depending on the area you are building in, you may want to consider building up the foundation of the home a foot or two higher than the minimum elevation to avoid higher flood insurance rates in the long term. You should have a clear idea of what exactly is included in the home and where any overages may occur that you may not expect, for instance 6,000 square feet of sod may not be enough to cover your entire building lot and the areas surrounding the home and you may have a bill coming on this. A good builder will give you allowances that are workable for your home. Some builders give a very low starting cost on the house but do not include all of the fees and site preparation costs which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Before you sign anything make sure you have a clear picture of what it will take to complete the project.

How popular are green, or sustainable and energy-efficient, homes? What are some of the benefits for homeowners?

Green, or sustainable, homes are almost commonplace these days. It is actually impossible to build a home without any green features. Tougher building codes mean stronger homes and this is great for homeowners on many points. Their energy bills, water bills, insurance bills and maintenance bills will all be lower and it will take less of their personal time to maintain the home.

What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to designing and building green homes?

Many times homeowners do not realize the high cost of some of the green products available or that the return on their investment will just never be realized on some of the newer, fancier items like photovoltaic panels - although they are really great for being independent of the local electric company.

The truth is that our great-great grandparents were building green homes back at the turn of the century. They faced their homes the correct direction for less heat gain and placed windows and doors for a good cross breeze and had large porches to create more shade in the home. Moving forward in time to the 1980s when electric was not so expensive builders started building homes based more on aesthetics than function. Huge windows all over the front of the home and high vaulted ceilings to air condition do not lend themselves to reasonable electric bills.

How do the costs of building and maintaining a green home compare with those of a typical home?

A newly constructed home with a good level of insulation should be able to save 25% to 50% compared with an existing home.

What advice do you have Florida homeowners to make sure they are completely happy with their custom-built home?

It's really important to have a builder you trust. Don't be afraid of letting the builder know what your budget is. It should be a team effort with a huge amount of communication of exactly what your wants and needs are for the home. If you are not exactly sure what you are looking for, a few hours of interview time with the builder should be able to pull out what your lifestyle is and how you live.

Many times I speak with homeowners that have built a custom home, only to live in it and realize they wished later they had preplanned more for the future on their home. For instance, we often pre-plumb for a summer kitchen or run electric for future landscape lighting. Your custom home may not have a starting budget for everything you wish, but a good builder will make sure that you don't have to shell out additional thousands later for things that can be pre-planned early in the process for very little cost. Make sure your builder goes through every part of the home and what exactly is included, you don't want any surprises later.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you and your company?

We are always available by phone at (941) 697-9949.

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