Friday, August 1, 2014

Let the Sunshine - Energy Efficient Site Placement

We learned last week that sunlight is nature’s stress-buster, because it positively impacts both physical and mental health. If you're lacking in the natural light department your mood will suffer. But did you know that sunlight can also help you save money on lighting and heating bills? Simply designing your home around how the sun moves throughout the day will help make your home more energy efficient and pleasant to live in. The fancy term is “passive solar building design”. In passive solar building design, windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. In this post we are going to discuss taking advantage of the sun to produce the most heat and light.  In passive solar building design, windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. In this post we are going to discuss taking advantage of the sun to produce the most heat and light.

Design your home to take advantage of the sun all day. Think of a house as four distinct sections…north, south, east and west. Each section has its own potential for daylight and free heat, depending on the sun's position during the day.

Morning sun is dominant in east-facing rooms. Locate kitchens, dining rooms and breakfast nooks on the east wall to make the most of light potential early in the day. Using dense flooring materials like, tile, stone or hardwood in these rooms will help with the heat gain. Bedrooms with east-facing windows will be great for early risers but terrible for people who like to sleep in.

Sunlight is strongest on the south wall. The south section of your home is the best place for your main living areas, the space that will be used most throughout the day. This is another area where using dense flooring materials will help with heat gain.

Early evening light from the west is at a low angle. Because the sun is so low in the sky, west-facing windows get direct sunlight blazing through them. In Michiana, this is the last chance of the day to soak up some sun; West-facing rooms are a bad choice for media rooms because strong light makes screens harder to see. However, west bedrooms are great for people who like to sleep in because the room is very dark in the morning.

North rooms have the least natural light. They also have the greatest potential for heat loss through windows. This is a good place for bathrooms, sleeping porches, offices, utility rooms, entries, and other rooms where natural light isn't as important.

Martin Brothers features a home on our website that includes passive solar design in the overall house layout including fenestration and main rooms on an east/west axis for good solar orientation. We recommend working with an architect who is familiar with local climate and topography when designing your new home. Feel free to visit our website for a list of local architects.

Friday, June 27, 2014

9 Questions to Ask a Potential Custom Home Builder

You have gone through the design process with your Architect, have designed the custom home of your dreams and it's now time to select a custom home builder. A custom home is unique in that the home is usually large, built to specified standards and is much more complex to build. What questions should you ask your potential custom home builder candidates?  
  1. Do you only build site-specific homes for a new client each time you build? The builder should be building a new and unique home each and every time they build. This will prove that they have the ability to build all types of homes with unique architectural elements. They should be familiar with building on different terrains and soil types and in different areas of Michiana. Building for a new client each and every time, means they possess the ability to work and communicate with all types of individuals.
  2. Do they employ experienced carpenters and support staff? Experience counts when it comes to building a complex home. A professional builder will have trained staff that has been with their company for many years. They are the backbone of the company. The face you will see at your jobsite. The people who will interact with the subcontractors and suppliers…the people who will handle the warranty issues long after your home has been built.
  3. Will they assign management personnel to your project?  Jobsite management is crucial to a 
    smooth and headache-free building project. A project foreman should be assigned to your project. They should be there everyday, all day. They will handle the daily activity of your project. They are there to make sure subcontractors and suppliers are showing up. They will handle all safety issues and the builder’s personnel that are there working on your home. In addition there should be a project manager assigned to your project…someone that will handle your project as a whole. They will handle post contract bidding, communication with you, inspectors, trades, suppliers — the many parties who are involved in your project. Their job is to keep the project running on schedule, on budget and with as few problems as possible.
  4. Do they build less than 10 homes per year? If the builder is building more than this, they most likely fall in the category of developer or spec home builder. A true custom home builder is engaged in building fewer homes so that they can focus on customer service and quality construction.
  5. Are they a member of the local, state, and national Home Builders Associations? This means the builder is committed to professionalism.
  6. Does the builder have a permanent business location? Be wary of the builder who is operating out of a truck. They may consider their business a temporary operation. Find out how long they have been in the building business. It usually takes three to five years to establish a financially sound business.
  7. Do they carry sufficient workers compensation and general liability insurance? If not, you may be liable for any construction-related accidents on your premises. Make sure they will be around after the construction is complete to service any warranties. Make sure they are following OSHA guidelines and that they have written safety policies in effect to protect employees on the jobsite.
  8. Do they have a good reputation with local banks, suppliers and trades? A financially sound
    builder will not expect a client to pay for services before work is completed. They may expect a small down payment up front, but not a substantial amount. Make sure the builder provides you with a complete and clearly written contract. The contract will benefit you both. If you are having a new home built, get and review a copy of the home warranty and homeowner manual as well. The builder must have an excellent working relationship with suppliers and trades. If they do not have good working relationships, there will be friction throughout the project. Find out if the suppliers and trades refer clients to them.
  9. Will they conduct scheduled meeting with you? Keeping you informed of the progress of your project is vital. Meetings may be conducted over the telephone or on the jobsite. They may take place with your architect or designer. But regularly scheduled meetings should take place.
Martin Bros. Contracting, Inc. is a true custom home builder specializing in luxury new home construction. We have been building homes in the Michiana area since 1965. Since that time, we have never built the same home twice. We serve an area within a 50 mile radius of our company’s rural Goshen, Indiana location. We build mid to large custom homes and estates with intense focus on quality of construction, craftsmanship and materials. 

Martin Bros. Contracting, Inc. offers dedicated project management on your site to ensure quality, as well as personalized attention to your input, questions and satisfaction. As a client you will be kept informed from beginning to end with clear, scheduled construction meetings and financial reports. 

Your project reflects the shared vision of you and your architect. Martin Bros. Contracting, Inc. will help you realize your vision with clear communication between you, your architects and designers, and the Martin Brothers team of construction professionals.

Written contracts are provided for every project; a home warranty and an extensive homeowner manual are provided on each new construction project. Martin Brothers is proud to be an Indiana Quality Assurance Builder.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Home Maintenance Quiz

Your home may be the biggest investment you will ever make. Taking good care of it with regular maintenance is necessary to maintain its value and ensure it will provide a comfortable, safe shelter for you and your family for a long time.

Here is a home maintenance quiz that will test your maintenance knowledge. While this quiz does not address every home maintenance project, it does provide helpful tips and reminders for chores you may have overlooked.

How often do forced-air furnace filters need to be changed? At least every three months during the heating season. (Martin Brothers recommends monthly for maximum efficiency. Check the furnace installed in your Martin Brothers home, it most like has a washable filter and may be washed monthly.)

What part of the faucet usually needs to be replaced when you have a water leak? The washer. (In washerless faucets, the cartridge.)

Should you run hot or cold water through your garbage disposal? Cold water.

How often should the moving parts of garage doors be oiled? Every three months.

What tools can you use to unclog your drains? A plunger and a plumber’s snake.

What tool can be used to unclog a toilet? Coil spring-steel auger.

What faucet part needs to be cleaned every three to four months? Aerator — the screen inside the end of the faucet.

What can you use for traction on icy sidewalks, steps and driveways? Cat litter or sand — never use salt because it damages the pavement.

Where should the fire in your fireplace be built? On the andirons or grate, never on the fireplace floor.

What will prevent soot and add color to the fire in your fireplace? Throw in a handful of salt.

Where should your firewood be stored? Outside, away from your house and not directly on the ground.

What helps keep unpainted concrete floors easy to keep clean? Concrete sealer.

What should you use to clean unpainted concrete floors? A solution of 4 to 6 tablespoons of washing soda in a gallon of hot water. Mix scouring powder to the solution for tough jobs.

When can you clean hardwood floors with water? When the floors have a polyurethane finish. (Martin Brothers recommends following the installer’s recommendations and using the product they provide.)
Do hardwood floors need to be waxed? Hardwood floors that do not have a polyurethane finish probably will need to be waxed periodically. Use liquid or paste “spirit” wax. (Martin Brothers recommends following the installer’s recommendations and using the product they provide.)

What is the best polish for vinyl floors? Water emulsion wax.  (Martin Brothers recommends following the installer’s recommendations and using the product they provide.)

When is basement condensation at its maximum? In new homes because gallons of water went into the concrete of basement walls.

Why should noisy water pipes be fixed promptly? The condition that causes noisy pipes may be accompanied by vibration that can cause fittings to loosen and leak.

Why should frozen pipes be thawed slowly? Frozen pipes should be thawed slowly to prevent the formation of steam, which could  cause the pipe to burst.

How often should your roof be inspected? A qualified roofer should inspect your roof every three years.

What should be regularly checked on your security system? The alarms and circuit breakers should be checked to make sure they are in working order and the sensors should be inspected one by one.

To ensure your safety, what household equipment uses batteries that must be checked regularly to make sure they are operable? Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. (Even though the detectors may be hard-wired, they still have a battery back-up. Detectors should be tested monthly and batteries replaced twice a year.)

What do you use to fill nail holes and cracks in plaster walls and gypsum wallboard? Spackling.

What is the white powdery substance that develops on masonry walls? Efflorescence sometimes appears on masonry walls. It is crystallized soluble salts that can be removed by scrubbing with water and a stiff brush.

At what temperature should your water heater be set? 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

How often do skylights need to be inspected? Skylights should be inspected each time your roof is inspected so leaks don’t develop from cracks and interruptions around its seals, caulking and flashings.

What is a simple solution you can use to wash extremely dirty exterior windows? A solution of equal parts vinegar and water or 3 tablespoons of denatured alcohol per quart of warm water. Use a piece of crumpled newspaper to wash the glass to avoid lint left behind by paper towels.

What can you use to help a window slide easily? Rub the channel with a piece of paraffin.

What should you look for when you inspect your siding yearly? Determine if wood-sided homes need to be repainted; check to see if the caulking around the windows and doors has split and cracked, and replace the caulk; clean the mildew; trim shrubbery away so it does not touch the siding.

This quiz is brought to you via the National Association of Home Builders. Items noted in red are comments from Martin Bros. Contracting, Inc.

Martin Bros. Contracting, Inc. builds high-end custom home in Northern Indiana and Southwest Michigan. To learn more about us, please visit us at

Friday, June 6, 2014

Add Value, Pleasure To Your Home With a Well-Tended Yard

Do you and your family have fun in your yard, or is it just unused space that means you have a long list of chores this weekend? A well-planned yard gives you extra room to enjoy without adding a tremendous amount of upkeep, and summer is a great time for you to start making a master plan for your yard for the years to come.

Sales statistics continually show millions of American households spent billions of dollars on professional landscaping and lawn care services, revealing that homeowners recognize the value of caring for their yards. In addition, NAHB estimates that builders plant a minimum of two trees per lot, and six to eight trees are not uncommon on larger lots. Also, surveys show that builders are conserving more mature trees since established foliage adds value to homes.

To make your master plan, walk around your property. Note how your house sits on the lot, where your garage, tool shed, deck, pool or other structure is and what plants you have now. Think about what you would like to have a year from now. Is it more trees for shade, more grass to play in, a flower or herb garden for cutting, or just reworking an area that takes too much time to maintain? Once you know what you want, start thinking about the plants you will need. 

A healthy, lush and vibrant lawn or garden starts with your choice of plants. Choose trees, flowers, shrubs and other plants that grow well in your area. This may sound limiting, but by choosing plants that are native or tested to be tolerant of the weather in your area, your yard will require less work and give you better results. Visit your local garden center, arboretum or botanical garden for advice and ideas. Look for sections that are like your yard, and choose plants that grow well there whether you want brilliant flowers, ground cover, shrubbery or herbs.

It is very important to monitor the cycles of light and moisture in your yard. Late summer is a good time to note where the sun is at different times of the day and to record how much water is available naturally. Watch for areas of day-long shade, and do not put sun-loving plants in those spots. Likewise, don't put shade plants where they get full sun all day. In addition, take a sample of the dirt in your yard to a county extension agent or garden center, and ask them to determine the pH and chemical composition of your soil. Your soil's characteristics will have a significant impact on what you will be able to grow successfully.

While you are at the garden center or arboretum, listen for tips such as planting a low water-demand plant at higher elevation. Excess moisture from rain or watering will trickle down from the low water-demand plant to the thirstier plant nearby. In general, selecting disease-resistant, drought-tolerant plants makes sense no matter what you plan to do in your yard.

Two key elements of a beautiful garden are shape and texture. Think of your landscape as a photograph or painting framed by plants. Larger trees and plants belong in the back of your yard, medium-sized shrubs and flowers go in the middle of the visual field and short, smaller plants go in the front. To give shape to your garden, select a variety of plants with varying shapes and sizes. Texture comes from plants with a variety of leaves — shiny hosta, fuzzy herbs, dull azalea, prickly yucca or aloe. Also, keep architectural details in mind when you choose plants. Rough, textured plants will highlight stucco walls, but a picket fence will look better with soft flowers and gentle vines. Don't forget to look at your yard from all angles, including noticing what you'll see when you look through the windows from inside your home.

By taking the time to think through what you want your yard to look like, and noting what your limitations are, you'll have greater success with your efforts. In addition, you'll spend more time enjoying your yard instead of working in it, and you'll see an added benefit when you sell your home: A well-planned landscape adds value to any piece of property. 

This article is brought to you via the National Association of Home Builders.

June is National Home Ownership Month. Martin Bros. Contracting, Inc. has been building quality custom built homes in Michiana since 1965. If you are looking to build a custom home in Northern Indiana or Southwest Michigan, please visit our website at or call us 574-862-2142.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How to Live With Your Remodeling Project

Remodeling your home is uniquely different from building a new one. With remodeling, your home becomes
Martin Bros. Contracting Remodeling Site
the worksite. You live side by side with the project from start to finish. Once construction begins, you'll probably long for simple pleasures like a dust-free home or a fully functioning kitchen or bath. But the end result will be well worth these inconveniences.


Consistent and open communication between you and your remodeler will enhance your understanding of the project, provide an opportunity to exchange ideas, and ultimately help to make the experience a positive one for everyone involved. To facilitate this process, you need to: 
  • Determine who you and your remodeler should contact for daily decisions or an after-hours emergency. For example, your contact may be the lead carpenter for the job, while the remodeler's contact could be your spouse.
  • Designate a backup for each contact person to assure continuity in anyone's absence.
  • Create a place in your house where the contact persons can leave messages for each other (a securely anchored notebook is a good idea since it is less likely to disappear).
  • Speak up. If you are uncertain about any aspect of the project, be sure to let the contact person know.
The Pre-Construction Meeting

One way to ensure the success of your project is to plan for and actively participate in a pre-construction meeting. This allows your remodeler to clarify procedures and explain how the job will progress. It also offers both you and your remodeler an opportunity to prepare for those issues that may arise later. You should think of this meeting as a forum for all participants to define their expectations and agree on the anticipated outcome.
Some of the issues you may wish to cover at this meeting include:
  • Will you allow your remodeler to place a company sign on your property? Remember that, in addition
    Martin Bros. Contracting Kitchen Remodel
    to being a marketing tool, signs help contractors and suppliers locate your home.
  • What areas of your home will be off limits to workers?
  • Does your house have an alarm system? Will workers need a key or will someone always be there?
  • How will you ensure that your children and pets stay out of the work space?
  • How will trash removal be handled? Where will the remodeler locate the dumpster on your property?
  • Does the remodeler anticipate any interruptions of utilities during the project? If so, when and for how long? At certain stages of construction, the project may affect basic household necessities like water and electricity. Will you need to vacate the house at any time?
  • What are your expectations regarding clean up? Will sweeping be sufficient for a daily cleaning, or will you need a more thorough cleaning in order to use the space?
  • You should also use the pre-construction meeting to establish guidelines for the remodeling crew working on the project:
  • Determine who you and your remodeler should contact for daily decisions or an after-hours emergency. For example, your contact may be the lead carpenter for the job, while the remodeler's contact could be your spouse.
  • What times will workers begin and end work at your home? Be sure to consider the neighbors as well
    Martin Bros. Contracting Remodeling Site
    as household members.
  • Where can workers park near the jobsite?
  • Will you allow workers to use your phone for local business calls?
  • Will bathroom facilities in your home be available to workers?
  • What is the remodeler's policy on smoking on the jobsite?
  • What is the remodeler's policy on the use of profanity? If you are especially sensitive to this issue, you should let your remodeler know.
  • Will you allow workers to play their radios at a reasonable volume? Are there any stations or programs that you do not want played?
Preventing Remodeling Fever

The train-station atmosphere of a remodeling project can lead to remodeling fever. The main symptom of this
Martin Bros. Contracting Remodeling Site
temporary affliction is feeling a loss of control that results from disrupted routines and the impact on your personal space. The best way to prevent this fever is to prepare well, remember that "this too shall pass," and focus on the progress being made. A few other suggestions from remodeling pros: 
  • Prepare for inconvenience. A remodeling project can turn your home and — on some days — your life upside down. A kitchen remodel will, of course, affect meal planning. But a little ingenuity and some culinary shortcuts can lessen the impact. Set up a temporary cooking quarters by moving the refrigerator, toaster oven, and microwave to another room. Arrange a dishwashing station in your laundry room. If the weather is warm, fire up the grill and dine alfresco.
  • Designate a safe haven in your home where you can escape from the chaos and commotion.
  • Guard against dust. During a remodeling project, dust has the unfortunate tendency to appear everywhere from lampshades to plates stacked inside your kitchen cabinets. To keep out as much dust as possible: 1) Seal off doorways and stairs; 2) Turn off central air or heat when workers are sanding and stock up on extra filters so that you can change them often; 3) Have deliveries made through a designated entrance; 4) Use doormats and temporary floor coverings where appropriate; 5) Remove anything that might get damaged by the dust or at least cover it with plastic drop cloths that are taped shut.
  • Maintain a sense of humor, Remember that certain things are out of your control and it's best to laugh rather than upset yourself about things like the weather or delayed delivery of materials. 
  • See the remodeling process as an adventure. Tell the kids that you are "camping in" and transform inconvenience into fun. Along the way, celebrate as different stages of the project are completed.
Martin Bros. Contracting, Inc. is a professional remodeling company. Established in 1965 and serving the Michiana area, we offer a full-line of remodeling services. You may contact us at 877-862-2142 or visit our website at

For more information on choosing a professional remodeler and managing every phase of your remodeling project, be sure to visit

This information was provided via the National Association of Home Builders.