Homes built in 2013 will be 32 percent more energy efficient than those built under the energy codes that went into effect in 2006, thanks to new regulations put in place Jan. 1 by the state of Illinois.
"There are so many positives for buyers of new homes. All appliances must be more efficient. Temperature, moisture and air infiltration controls must be more effective. All gas furnaces and water heaters must be power ventilated and glass doors with gaskets are now standard on fireplaces," said Roger Gerstad, owner of Gerstad Builders of McHenry.
"An energy analysis of each home must be done before it is even built and then it must pass a pressure test prior to occupancy that shows five air changes or less per hour," he said.
Walls must now be insulated to R18 (compared to R11 in the 2006 regulations) while the attic must be insulated to at least R38 (as opposed to R30 in the previous rules). Low-E glass with better insulating properties is required in windows, which prevents fading of drapes and carpets, while basements must have fully-insulated foundations using vinyl-wrapped fiberglass on the inside of the foundation walls.
The negative pressure that is required in a home to provide adequate ventilation is now provided in a variety of ways, Gerstad said. Bathroom fans that run constantly draw in a small amount of outside air. There are also attic units that bring in fresh air and thermally control it before sending it to the furnace. Finally, you can run fresh air directly into a furnace, but that is not as energy efficient as other methods, he said.
"All of these regulations are raising the cost of new housing, but, as a company, Gerstad Builders has been transitioning toward these regulations for seven or eight years, so they are not affecting us as much as others, perhaps," Gerstad said.
"When someone is considering buying an older home, especially a distressed property, they need to be careful. Many of these homes are worn and not up to code. Their roof, siding and windows are all old. It is simply a matter of 'new' versus depreciated, aged materials."
Donald Gerstad founded Gerstad Builders in 1985 with the help of his son, Roger. Both had previously worked for Residential Development Group and Donald had been affiliated for years before that with builder/developers Ladd Enterprises and Rabino Ladd.
"I grew up in the building business, listening to my father," Gerstad said. "And while every child has questions about whether or not they should go into the family business, I knew that homebuilding was a fabulous business that didn't just involve bricks and sticks, but also provided daily challenges and demanded creativity in order to help people obtain their dreams.
"We take land from cornfield to finished product because Gerstad Builders is also a developer," he said.
Gerstad Builders has four communities under construction: Liberty Trails in McHenry (65 lots remain), Bailey Estates in Williams Bay, Wis. (170 lots remain), Pheasant Ridge in Richmond (16 lots remain) and The Trails of Dawson Creek in Poplar Grove (230 lots remain).
The homes' average sale price, across all communities, is $350,000 but base prices range from the $150,000s to the $340,000s for homes ranging in size from 1,400 to 3,200 square feet. All of the Illinois homes come with quarter-acre lots, while the Wisconsin homes come with half-acre lots, Gerstad said.
"We are not selling vacation homes in Williams Bay. The people buying there are purchasing their primary home and it has recently been 20 percent more active in Wisconsin than in Illinois," he said.
"All of our homes are semi-custom, built from special blueprints which incorporate individual buyers' custom desires and wants. I like to say that we are the Burger King of builders -- we let buyers 'have it their way,' " Gerstad said.
"Before we start construction on each house, therefore, we hold a big meeting with all of our departments and the buyers to review the contract in detail for a melding of the minds. We want everyone to understand the intent and expectations and, while it requires more time on the part of the customers, they appreciation the fact that we get everything right the first time."
What are some changes that have occurred in the industry?
Gerstad has been impressed with the progress made on energy conservation and efficiency over the past decade, but also by strides made in adapting homes for those with disabilities and potential disabilities in the future. Doors, hallways and bathrooms are now constructed so they are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.
"This will allow aging Americans to safely stay in their homes longer.
"The general styling of homes has also improved. Architecturally, today's homes are much more appealing from the street than those built 30 years ago.".
What are some challenges facing the industry?
"Our costs are continually going up. The lumber futures market, for instance, looks like Mount Everest over the next five months, and the costs for the extra energy-efficiency requirements are also going up. So builders' margins are going down.
"We all have to be creative enough to come up with products that excite consumers, but that we can build at a price people can afford."
What are future plans for your company?
Gerstad believes his firm is "nestled into a good place" so he plans to continue along the same lines, building homes to meet people's unique dreams and doing it as affordably as possible.
Gerstad Builders can be reached at (815) 385-4495 or by visiting www.gerstadbuilders.com.