Building and renovating houses is getting expensive!
In today’s podcast, Bill shares that the cost of materials has been rising. Capacity, logistics, and tariffs issues contribute to the increase in prices. Reuben shares about the current prices of lumber in the market.
The use of structural insulated panels, even a 100-year old iron bathtub may aid the expenses. However, Tessa shares that passive houses may do more because of their standard in energy efficiency in buildings.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: It is springtime in Minnesota, and we’re gonna just have a grab bag discussion of a few different topics today. Welcome, everybody. You’re listening to structure talkies, Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside, Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman as always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland, Reuben’s making all kinds of hand gestures and nobody can see anything that he’s doing.
Tessa Murry: He’s fired up.
BO: Welcome to today’s episode.
BO: We’re gonna just have a grab bag discussion of a few different topics today. One thing that popped into mind recently, Tessa and I were discussing offline about one of our newer inspectors on the team, is building a house right now, and they’re moving to use a different product than is typically used in construction in our area, at least. SIP panels, and they’re finding that the SIP panel pricing is becoming more competitive, which is stick-built homes…
Reuben Saltzman: What’s a SIP panel, Bill?
BO: Technically, [laughter] that’s called the Structural Insulated Panel, which is a sandwich of OSB and Polystyrene, is that the name of the insulation that that’s in between the OSP balance?
TM: Is it Polystyrene technically, I don’t know, but it’s like a rigid rigid bond installation.
RS: I think polystyrene has a pretty low R-value, that’s the stuff that you make coolers out of, and then it falls apart…
BO: Those little bubbles is what it’s made out of, those little…
RS: The little balls really?
BO: The little balls or what it’s all crushed together and made out of that.
RS: Oh my goodness, I had no idea. I assumed it was a heavier type of foam like XPS or… I don’t even know what am talking about.
TM: I don’t know. We would need to do some more research.
BO: At any rate, one of our inspectors has decided to use this material as their exterior walls, so just to give you a little background, in the past, this was a product that somebody who was looking to build a Passive House might use and… Tessa can you explain what a Passive House is, if anybody is wondering what that means.
TM: I’ll give it my best shot, and there’s other people that are gonna be way more qualified to speak to this than I am, but Passive House is like a standard that the Germans developed Passive House, which is like a house that is so energy-efficient that it’s very air tight, very well-insulated triple pane windows that the cost of utilities is nothing, and a lot of times these houses will actually create more energy than they use and you can sell that energy back to the grid. There’s a lot of really intense standards, if you’re gonna build technically a Passive House to meet those standards and to use someone who’s certified in that process to help design and build a house like that.
BO: So you’re using less energy, way less energy than a normal design ’cause you’re just that much more energy efficient.
TM: Yeah, really energy-efficient, mm-hmm.
BO: And do you know anything about the certification when it comes to getting a passive certifications, where do you to get that like the energy?
TM: That’s a good question, Bill. I don’t know. There are a few architects in the Twin Cities area that I think do have that Passive House certification, but it’s a pretty rigorous process to have a house that is certified Passive House, and I wish I could speak more to what those steps were to get that certification, but I don’t know.
BO: Well, no problem, we’re not full of answers today, [laughter] we’re more full of questions, and sometimes that leads to better conversation because God knows I don’t have the answers to anything.
BO: Okay, Eric dives into the SIP conversation and he’s putting up these walls now, are they actually in the construction process?
TM: I don’t think so, but he was just saying how the cost of materials, specifically like 2 x 6s and everything, has gone up so much that he had looked at building a double wall type house to get it super insulated, but the cost of doing that with lumber now, would be more expensive than just using SIP panels to build the walls.
RS: It’s insane what lumber prices are at. I was at the store buying 2 x 4s the other day, and in my mind a 2 x 4 costs about two bucks right in there, maybe $1.96, maybe $2.25, somewhere in the $2 range. I just looked it up today, I got somewhat accurate numbers for this podcast, I’m not just making something up, listed online on homedepot.com, $7.98 cents for a 2 x 4, an 8 foot 2 x 4 you guys…
RS: It’s insane.
TM: That’s crazy.
BO: Everybody who’s listened to any of the podcasts, they know I’m in the middle of a building project up North, we’re doing a cabin on the lake way up North, and we’re beginning the actual stages of building. The contractor called me this week and he wanted to come out, bring out the excavator and pull back some dirt ’cause there’s a bed rock base that we’re gonna be building on a hill, so it’s like a 45 degree hill. I’m using round numbers here, it’s on a hill.
BO: And then they’re gonna have to cope the foams into the used wood and cope along the jaggedy bedrock and try to make flat surfaces for concrete, kind of a fun little project. He gave me the number to the lumberyard that, where he sources his material from, and I wanted to call the lumberyard and just get some idea about the tents and the windows we were looking at, what kind of samples they had in there, which led to a discussion about timing on some of these products because to my surprise, he said, if we ordered trusses tomorrow or yesterday… I was on the phone with him yesterday, not tomorrow, if we ordered the trusses when I made the phone call, he said mid-July, and that’s from the air of this podcast, that’s a solid three months…
BO: Into the future. And I was like, “Wow.” [laughter] He said, windows are 10 weeks out. He said, pine boards, ’cause I mentioned to him that we were gonna finish the inside with pine boards. And he just laughed, he said, “Yeah, our pine boards are insane right now.” I started asking myself, why is this so… They’re still trees, there’s still activity, there’s a lot going on out there. I did a little research, started peeling back the layers of this onion, and like all good things, it’s never clear and simple, we can’t just paint with a broad brush that a pandemic has caused these materials to spike because they were well on their way to getting expensive in 2018, but Reuben, did you have any idea that there was a tariff on lumber, soft lumber coming in from Canada?
RS: No idea, Bill, what’s a tariff?
BO: Apparently back in 2018, the US put a tariff on soft wood from Canada at 20% that’s been running since 2018, but now it just got turned down to half of that, they backed it off by 50%, I think 9% tariff now, so that wasn’t helping the situation…
TM: Is that where the United States gets most of it’s soft lumber, Douglas fir and Pine and everything from, is it from Canada?
BO: I would say it’s a combination of US and Canada.
BO: What do you call soft pine, do you consider fir soft pine?
TM: I guess so, I had to take… This is ridiculous, I had to take a wood biology class in college as part of my building science degree, so I should know this. But I think of hardwoods is as being maple, walnut, all that stuff, and softwoods is as being Douglas fir.
RS: And it doesn’t have something to do with whether it’s a deciduous tree or not test?
TM: So possibly. [chuckle]
RS: Okay, alright.
TM: I just don’t remember.
BO: Tessa didn’t pay attention in class.
TM: I passed it but man, I do not remember. That was years ago, but… So conifer, which doesn’t have leaves that it sheds every year, I believe all conifers are softwoods, and then the deciduous trees, like you just said, Reuben, would be hardwood. So that might be right, yeah.
RS: The Google machine is telling me that the wood from a conifer such as a pine, fir or spruce, as distinguished from that of a broad-leaved tree.
TM: Yeah. Yes, okay.
RS: So I think that’s the difference there.
TM: There we go, there we go.
BO: So pine, spruce, hemlock, all of that. Western number two, let’s just get… Do you remember that, Reuben, back in your lumber days when you had number two SPF?
RS: Of course.
RS: Spruce, pine, fir.
BO: I think that’s the material that we’re talking about.
TM: Yeah, okay.
BO: It’s way high, there’s capacity issues at mills, there’s logistics issues getting the material here, there’s tariffs issues, there’s all kinds of problems into in the system. But when I asked the guy at the lumber yard, he was like, “Well, do you just try to wait this out? Good luck. It could be years that we’re dealing with this.” And I just feel like you bite the bullet and thank my lucky stars. It’s a small building, it’s not a large building. So whatever these increases are, we can absorb it.
RS: Man, Bill, you’re making me feel guilty. I gotta replace the guard rails on my deck or guards, as I should more technically call them, I gotta replace those ’cause they’re severely rotted. I think we already talked about this in the past podcast, and I was thinking about putting it off, just ’cause materials are so expensive right now. But now, here you are saying, “Well, I’m not even gonna put up off building my cabin.” And here I am being a cheapskate like, maybe I’m gonna put off my guards. Maybe I could just bite the bullet and suck it up.
TM: Wait, Reuben, safety first.
RS: You’re right.
BO: It’s degrees of expensiveness, and if we were putting up a 6000-square foot thing that needed to be finished with tongue and groove all on the inside, I would absolutely be tabling this. But we’re like sub-1000 square feet [chuckle] so not a big building. And when you’re near the International Border, I figured a smaller building would just be more energy efficient anyway, and you’re only there for a short amount of time.
TM: So does this push back your timeline then, Bill, for construction with all the weight on materials?
BO: I don’t think it pushes back the timeline, it just slows the whole entire process down, and the move-in date is certainly gonna be different. And probably, the condition of the inside when we actually move in would be different as well. We might end up being unhappy with insulation in the walls and Polly up and in a nice tight building while we, for some value out there if there are tongue and groove. I wanna use reclaimed material, and so maybe we can… Reclaimed material is not inexpensive either, but maybe it’s more on par with what this new materials cost me. Did I ever tell you, we’ve actually got our bathrooms and our kitchen, everything, all of our other appliances are all there, and we’ve reclaimed everything that we’re putting in there, 100-year-old cast iron bathtubs?
TM: No, where are you storing all that stuff?
BO: Well, there’s a variety of buildings on this property, half of them are barely up. And any lean I can find that keeps the weather off of these products, I just put these products underneath one of the sheds.
TM: So you’ve been collecting cast iron bathtubs that are 100 years old and stuff throughout the years?
BO: Yeah, my friend Charlie and I, last fall, made a great adventure to pick up a… Well, first, I went and got a cast iron tub west of town, grabbed my nephew, and the two of us went off out there and threw it in my truck. That was no joke. Then my friend Charlie and I decided, well, I found one in Western, Wisconsin. So we left at Twin Cities one morning and went over somewhere near Spooner, Wisconsin, and then grabbed that bathtub and then drove up up to the Falls, International Falls to deposit this in the garage. [chuckle]
TM: Oh, my gosh. That’s great.
BO: So we’re into… We had two new old bathtubs for exactly $40.
TM: Were those Craigslist finds?
BO: Yeah, there’s always somebody giving something away. And my wife tracked down some wonderful old enameled sinks that you would see in an old possibly bathroom in a school or maybe a locker room at these all 18-inch sinks. So we’re using those where they have a hot and a cold, there’s no blend in it, you just… Each one. So those are gonna be what the bathroom fixtures are, really old school. But what the heck, things are expensive.
RS: And you’re doing this on purpose? You want that, Bill?
RS: I hate the idea of that. There’s no temperate in the water. You either stick your hand under a scalding hot spout or a cold spout.
BO: You know that with modern plumbing, we can fix that. So that’s what we’re gonna do.
RS: Tell me how. I need to know.
BO: Now, we’re back to home inspection, so I like this.
BO: What do you tell people who have a cloth of bathtub in their beautiful old 100-year-old house that has separate hots and cold?
RS: Well, maybe we’re talking about two different things, Bill, because you have plenty of two-handle faucets that you can even buy today. There’s a hot handle and a cold handle that exists today, that’s fine. I got no beef with those. What I’m envisioning is where you’ve got two spouts, you’ve got a hot water spout and a cold water spout. Is that what you’re describing?
BO: Yeah, but what if we put one of those fancy little tampering devices on the water heater, way back at the water heater. So if I turn on hot, the hottest it’s ever gonna deliver is like 120 degrees.
RS: I’m assuming it’s already only gonna come out at 120 degrees and I don’t like that. That’s not comfortable.
BO: Why is it? That’s too hot.
RS: Maybe on a bathtub where you just fill it and you’re done. Maybe it’s not that big of a deal, I guess.
BO: Yeah, the bathtub is gonna have a single spout just so you know.
RS: Okay, so I’m thinking of handwashing.
RS: If you wanna wash your hands with warm water, the only way I can think of doing that is to stopper the sink and fill the sink up with some hot and or some cold water, and then stick your hands in there like your hands are taking a bath. That’s the only way I can ensure this happening, Bill.
BO: Okay. Well, there’s no…
RS: And that’s what I tell people buying these. I’m like, “Wonderful. I’m glad you like this, but just be aware this is your limitation, unless you decide you’re gonna replace your faucet someday.” I don’t tell them to do anything, I just let them know this is what you’re getting.
BO: Yeah, no, that’s what we’re getting. We’re getting hot water on one side.
RS: But you’re doing it on purpose.
BO: That’s correct.
RS: That’s correct.
TM: I love this conversation.
RS: Alright, I’m not gonna get over this, Bill.
BO: Then you’ll just have to wash your hands in the kitchen sink if you come up to the cabin. I don’t know what to tell you.
RS: Does Jody know this is what you’re doing?
BO: This is her idea. This is not my idea. This is her idea.
TM: Has she suffered through only having a hot option or a cold option in a sink before? [laughter]
BO: Yes, she’s suffered many a night with far greater limitations than this.
TM: Okay. She’s just happy that there’s hot water up there and I get that. A cabin with hot water is a luxury.
BO: Yeah, it’s gonna be awesome, man.
RS: Yeah. I’m still gonna have to talk to her about this. I don’t feel like you’ve explained this adequately, Bill. [laughter]
BO: I told you what we have and you understand it, so think we’re… [laughter]
RS: I don’t… Okay. Alright.
BO: I think… But what we have done is we’ve reclaimed and we’re keeping something out of the landfill. So it’s kind of cool. It’s my little up-nod to trying to do something good here.
TM: I wanna see what it looks like when you guys are done. I wanna see pictures.
BO: Yeah. Well, you can visit if you want. And the thing is, I don’t intend to spend a lot of time inside this building anyway, ’cause there’s a lake right there that goes on for a long way so…
BO: I plan to devote more time to other activities and laying my head down on a pillow somewhere inside is great.
RS: Are you gonna go ice fishing in the winter, are you gonna go up there to do Ice fishing?
RS: Alright. Sweet.
BO: It’s four seasons of fun.
RS: Awesome. [laughter]
BO: Even if spring is three days and fall is two days so.
RS: Have you gotten a new ice fishing tent?
BO: No. We haven’t ever talked about that. I had a very unfortunate occurrence. I live in a sustainable urban core, and people who know that know that there sometimes is a little extra theft. There is crime in the city that doesn’t always happen farthest from the tallest buildings. And unfortunately, somebody took my ice fishing tent, my Clam Hub, out of the back of my truck when I was at the grocery store one day, and I walked out with my…
RS: Broad daylight, right?
BO: In broad daylight. Yes.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: Broad daylight, took it out of the back of his truck while he’s at a grocery store…
TM: That’s cruel.
RS: Steal his ice fishing tent.
RS: It’s such a Minnesota story.
TM: Oh gosh… How is it…
BO: That’s kicking a person when they’re down, right?
TM: That was a nice tent too, Bill, that was really nice tent. Describe what that tent was like, ’cause we got to use it this winter on a leadership retreat we did.
BO: So it pops up, it’s like a five or six-sided thing that pops out, it’s eight feet tall, and I think nine feet across. There was a good amount of space inside. You could fish four or five people in there pretty comfortably once you have the heaters going. And with really thick side walls, you could sleep in that and be plenty warm, but I don’t know, it turned out to be somebody’s rent check, I think. I’m sure they took this right to a pawn shop, got whatever, 100, 150, 200 bucks for it, and they probably put that money to either… Well, I’m hoping they put it towards rent, that makes me feel better right now. I hope it wasn’t drugs or alcohol or whatever like that.
TM: Did the grocery store parking lot have security camera footage they could use?
BO: Yeah, we talked about it. There was actually a police officer in the grocery store when this happened, so… [laughter]
RS: Until this happened, I would have told you never in the history of the world has someone stolen an ice fishing tent out of a grocery store parking lot. Like it…
RS: No, but it did happen. Poor Bill.
BO: It happened. I’m living proof. I actually have the note from St. Paul police right here with my incident number on it. They said they would call if they found it.
RS: They haven’t called yet?
BO: No. It’s long gone. It’s long gone so. Such are the breaks. Yeah, anyway, you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman as always. Thanks for listening, and we’ll catch you next time.