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Owner Build Network

Celebrating Over 20 Years. Design – Finance – Build.

From the Desk of Sheila Marler, Founder

Hello Everyone,

Let's pray for enough rain but not too much. It has been quite a couple years with rain delays, permit delays and for a while contractor shortages due to the rain and many of them being affected personally.

Let's see what is going on in Owner Builder Network's world. Get ready for more videos of our homes under construction on our website and a lot more articles.

Lumber prices went way up last year and then this year went back down to a little below what they started at. Now at this time they are starting to go back up a little.

The City of Houston and Huntsville permits are now taking 2 weeks to a month depending on how prepared you are with all the material required.

At this time we are proud to say we have 7 repeat customers building through Owner Builder Network again. We are so proud of what we have done for so many people over 20 plus years now. If you know of someone wanting to build a new home please send them our way. We have homes from Galveston, Huntsville, Richmond, Rosharon and in the city limits.

If you have any questions on how Owner Builder Network works or would like to be part of our team as a contractor or a customer please call us at (281) 356-9050.

Sheila Marler

Sheila Marler | Founder
Owner Builder Network | Office in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio – Celebrating over 20 years!
7102 FM 1488 | Magnolia, TX 7734 | Office (281) 356-9050 |

De-Mystifying “Value Engineering”

Hands Using Scissors to Cut Paper with the Word 'Cost' on Blurred Background with Cup of Coffee

Why Value Engineering Is Here to Stay

Over the past few decades, the term "value engineering" has made its way into the homebuilding industry as a way to describe a building practice that reduces overall costs while maintaining quality or functionality of a home. Value engineering can occur at nearly every phase of the build, from the architectural drawing and design to the material choices for the kitchen finishes. Want to improve your jobsite through value engineering? Don't allow yourself to fall into the "been there, done that" mindset. Instead, take the mindset to always challenge yourself to find errors, omissions and improvements that can save you time, money and potential callbacks in the future.

Value Engineering: More Than Just Cutting Costs

In recent years, value engineering has skewed to a mindset of "let's just cut costs" regardless of quality repercussions. It's important to remember that value engineering is not about just trying to cut costs. When done correctly, value engineering is about finding both the most functional and most cost-effective way to build a structure that buyers want.

As home affordability keeps some potential buyers on the sidelines, value engineering could be one way to help you sell through more homes. Even small changes—think subbing a shower-bath combo for individual units or opting for straight-run stairs instead of flights with landings—can help builders keep homes in targeted price ranges without major sacrifices to design and quality.

What's Driving Value Engineering

With the labor shortage affecting every aspect of the industry, builders are seeking ways to construct a home with less manpower. Another factor is the current lack of available land and the increase in urban infill. Packing smartly designed livable space onto smaller lots could push a builder to reconsider the design and materials used.

One often overlooked factor is the influence and expectations of the modern homeowner. Buyers are expecting homes to be built with more windows, elaborate floor plans and overall more intricate design elements—all while staying within their budget. The fact is that homeowners are changing and their housing preference are evolving. Builders will need to evolve their designs to meet homeowner demand.

What Keeps Builders from jumping on the Value Engineering Train

Even when value engineering practices can help save money, speed up timelines or improve energy efficiency, many homebuilders are still hesitant to change their ways. Production builders, in particular, are very systematic with a mechanized workflow. Once a builder decides to change on element of the build process, it can cause a disruptive ripple effect that many builders try to avoid. Maybe their local dealer doesn't have the supplies needed or their local tradespeople are not trained on the latest installation practices. Bottom line: The home building industry is a complicated business with a complicated distribution and labor network. The fragmentation can make it difficult for builders to implement new methods and practices.

Builder Benefits of Value-Engineered Homes

Energy Management. Offer your customers a more energy efficient home (air tight, lower thermal bridging, etc.) that can help them curb long-term costs and their environmental impact.

Resource Management. Leverage value engineering by requiring fewer materials and by offering a faster way to construct the home, both of which will save you time and money.

Reputation Management. Construct a home built to higher quality standards, which can lead to homeowner satisfaction, fewer callbacks and improved brand reputation.

Finding the Value in Value Engineering

When value engineering a home, a builder should look at the project holistically. Too often builders will only assess the cost of materials at the point of purchase without thinking aout it through the entire build. The other factors can include additional time or money spent on callbacks, installation complexity, additional equipment or materials for installation, or even additional specialized tradespeople on site.

A consulting firm that server as a resource for builders seeking information on cutting-edge construction methods. According to Cooke, a homebuilder cannot implement new building methods in a silo. "It takes collaboration with the architects, designers, framers and tradespeople. For this reason, it's helpful to onboard the entire team to a new practice together."

Explaining that the adoption of modern value engineering methods may not occur overnight for most builders. He encourages his clients to make a lost of changes they'd like to implement over the next one to seven years to create a process for continual improvement.

"I advise that they make a list of things they want to try right away and then a list of things they want to wait on." "As an example, I have one customer who took three years to fully implement optimal value engineering in his wall framing process."

Using Premium Products Wisely

When you consider the overall return on investment, premium building products have the potential to actually stretch your overall project budget while also adding quality to the home—the ultimate end goal of value engineering. The key is to place higher value-added products where they would have the most perceived benefit. An example would be to swap commodity lumber for LSL (laminated strand lumber) in kitchens and baths where you have cabinets and tiling. LSL can also be used in advanced framing practices. Cooke explained that builders can actually use fewer studs in the walls to increase the R-Value and still meet code, minimizing the amount of heat transferred through the wall.

We have a much better sense now than we did 30 years ago when it comes to what makes buildings work and what makes them fail. The value of premium building products is apparent when you take into account the time saved by not having to go back and fix any issues that may pop up with lower grade materials. It comes down to the idea of "install it once and be done with it."

Source: Engineered Wood


Civil Engineer and Worker Discussing Issues at the Construction Site Pointing at Wood Building Frame



Working for a company that used panelized systems for its houses. The walls were preframed in a factory and delivered to our jobsites where the local framer assembled the components. At the time, we were framing with low-grade dimensional 2X4s for the walls and 2X10s (2X12s) for the floor joists.

I remember doing frame checks with my 6-foot level and finding bowed studs and low or crowned joists. Our 1/2-inch, Level-4 drywall and vinyl floors telegraphed those inconsistencies, so if I missed them on a frame check, I had a ton of work ahead if it became a punch list item. I would run my level across the walls, looking for the telltale rocking that revealed a bowed stud. I marked them with orange paint, and the framer would fix them using different methods with varying degrees of success.

Floors were a constant source of callbacks and warranty problems, and dimensional lumber posed many issues for us. Floor joists often had large crowns and the 5/8-inch commodity OSB decking (glued and nailed) would telegraph those humps or dips. To correct the problems framers would cut a kerf in the crowned joist and someone would jump on the floor to crack the joist and flatten the floor. We used lots of blocking to fix the floor, but would invariably overlook one or get callbacks for squeaky nails. I don't miss those days.

Fast-forward 20 years, and now I'm building custom homes many of them contemporary-style. I choose the framing lumber package and use a top-notch framer because mistakes have no where to hide on Level 5-finish walls, and a bowed stud on a Level 5 drywall finish or an expensive tile backsplash is costly. Flaws are especially noticeable on drywall that has raking light from high windows washing the surface. That's why the emergence of engineered framing lumber has become a hot topic for builders like me.


When engineered lumber first appeared on my radar, it was in the form of I-joists to solve the crowning problems 2X10 and 2X12 joists created. Switching from dimensional joists to I-joists meant every floor was dead flat. Then I transitioned to thick, engineered AdvanTech decking, and that helped a great deal, too.

But let's talk about "engineered" studs. The first engineered 2X4 stud I tried was a finger-jointed product. Clients were always wary, believing the lumber was cheap and probably not as strong. Finger-jointed studs tended to be straighter than standard spruce-pine-fir 2X4s, but they weren't perfect.

Then I discovered laminated strand lumber (LSL). I still recall seeing the ad for LSL studs in a trade magazine. They looked like an OSB stud and were advertised for tall-wall applications, which was my first use of the product in a home I built in 2008. My framer and I loved how each 20-foot-long stud for a two-story living room was perfectly straight, flat, and devoid of potential for future movement.

LSL studs are totally different from traditional pine lumber, each one is perfect. After that first job, I started using the engineered product in shorter walls that needed to be dead flat, such as kitchen walls that really needed to be dead flat, such as kitchen walls that have cabinets, countertops, and tile, because even minor flaws on these walls will throw off your finishes. The same goes for bathroom walls and laundry rooms.

I know what you're thinking: Why not use steel studs? They're cheaper and lighter. They are also dead flat. True indeed, but steel studs aren't structural or load-bearing, and our residentially focused trades don't know how to work with them. With steel, trim requires screws instead of nails, electricians need to take caution then running Romex cable, framers don't know hot to assemble them, and dealing with wood blocks for doors and windows is a pain. In short, LSL and other engineered studs are a one-to-one replacement for standard 2-by studs, so it's business as usual.

In addition to being flat and straight, engineered studs are strong. Laminated veneer lumber (LVL) studs can be two times stronger in compression and tension than standard framing lumber of the same dimension. Recently I built a home with all LVL studs for a client who wanted the home to withstand wind and shear loads. The client worked with the structural engineer to design a wood-framed house that could stand up to winds in excess of 100 mph.


So what are the downsides of engineered lumber? For one, it's pricey. Softwood lumber is a commodity whose price fluctuates with the markets. Engineered lumber tends to be more price-stable, but has upcharges of anywhere from 1 ½ to more than two times the cost of traditional lumber.

As I mentioned earlier, I build a lot of architect-designed modern homes that require a high standard for flatness and perfection. In these big-budget projects, the extra money spent on engineered studs isn't an issue, but for a traditional builder, it may not work. Another factor is weight; engineered studs are generally heavier than traditional lumber and denser, too, so they're more difficult to nail. Dealer reps may have suggestions on guns and nails that drive more easily into the dense material. The members come in 20-foot lengths (not in precut sizes like dimensional lumber), which means more cutting on site, more labor, and more waste.

Engineered lumber doesn't have the ability to absorb small leaks. If it does get wet and can't dry (inside a wall cavity, for example) it will rot faster than dimensional lumber. I typically use regular CDX plywood sheathing on my engineered stud framed homes to provide more hyric-buffering than OSB sheathing offers.

I also always use the best available waterproofing methods and materials. I recommend Poly Wall's Aluma Flash Plus peel-and-stick housewrap (zero perm) in the South, and in the North, Dorken's Delta-Vent SA peel and stick (high perm). If not those options, consider a fluid-applied weather resistive barrier, such as Prosoco's R-Guard system. Don't use the traditional housewrap on modern homes with no overhangs, since there's less margin for error.

In conclusion, engineered studs can offer a lot of benefits, but they aren't without some downsides. If you're using traditional pine lumber, talk to your supplier about premium options to see how they compare in price with engineered. In many parts of the country, you can find excellent Doug fir studs for not much more than SPF, and that may get you 80 to 90 percent of what you need. I'd also recommend trying engineered lumber on a tall-wall application or a kitchen first, to get the most bang for your buck. Good luck on your next build!

Sealing the Deal


INSULATION MANUFACTURES WANT your recycled glass. From beer and soda bottles to pickle and mayonnaise jars, recyclables kicked to the curb are ending up in the attic, as manufacturers continue to boost the amount of recycled glass used to make batt and blown-in insulation. With homeowner interest in energy efficiency anticipated to drive insulation category growth to $10.3 billion in 2019, according to The Freedonia Group, it's getting harder for insulation manufacturers to find enough glass to fill the bins.

"We use 10 railcars of crushed glass every day," says Brett Welch, senior product manager for Shelbyville, Ind.-based Knauf U.S. "So even as sustainability has been a driver in getting our recycled content north of 60 percent, there remains some market misconception about availability of recycled materials. We need industrial-scale amounts of glass, so we're partnering with different industries and municipalities to raise awareness about how to get it to us."

Insulation markets are booming, even as the home building industry has taken a more systems-based approach to heating and cooling that incorporates other products and construction methods into a wider, whole-house effort to reduce air leaks and improve energy efficiency.

"The energy codes are really beginning to appreciate the fact that insulation doesn't work in isolation; that it needs to be paired with wider efforts to mitigate air leakage." "Broadly, the industry is realizing you can't keep increasing energy efficiency just by cramming in more insulation, and that systems approach has been one of the biggest changes or industry has seen."

In addition to taking a harder look at insulating door and window openings, insulation specialists are finding air leakage at the rim joist and at the top of wall systems, too, particularly walls directly below an insulated attic or crawlspace. Spray foam as consequently surged in popularity as a product that can deliver air sealing as well as insulation. It also comes with a higher price tag and, once applied, is more difficult to remove.

One of the more interesting things about spray foam is how it has disrupted traditional concepts of manufacturing, production, and distribution in construction supply chains. After getting into spray foam in 2009, Johns Manville launched its free TechConnect service to help train contractors to boost productivity, yield, and installation quality.

"Batts and board products just go up, buy spray-in takes a little more training to do well," Babinear says. "We might produce the chemical, but the guy pulling the trigger on the gun is manufacturing the product right there in the wall cavity, and that's been a big aha moment for us."

Homeowner attention to energy efficiency as peaked in tandem with interest in indoor air quality, opening a market for manufacturers touting the overall healthfulness of their products in addition to their sustainability. UntraTouch (recycled blue-jean denim" and Havelock (sheep wool) insulation are both products that can be installed without use of protective equipment and that resonate with consumers that have high eco-awareness.

"With the increased number of chemically sensitive people, [consumers] are starting to home in on the materials that surround them, looking for the culprit."

Source: Products for Residential Construction Professionals

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Houston OBN
7102 FM 1488
Magnolia, TX 77354
(281) 356-9050

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