SawHorse Design + Build in 2022

SawHorse has been a go-to brand in the Atlanta market for renovations and custom new homes for over 40 years. With over 100 awards ranging from design, leadership, and construction at the local and national levels. While awards show excellence, our value proposition is continued improvement and progress with the design + build community.

Our Journey to High Performance

Individual Leadership

Matt Hoots, President of SawHorse, served in the United States Marine Corps, then studied design and building construction at GA Tech. His passion for building started at an early age. In elementary school, he built a model of a passive solar house and a functional solar oven for cooking food. His mother taught him about environmental impact and recycling, while his father taught him about being a good steward of natural and financial resources. As a husband father of 3 boys (and a dog), Matt wants to make sure sustainable construction takes hold in Atlanta.

Corporate Leadership

For over four decades, SawHorse has been known as the “Sign of Renovation in Your Neighborhood.” We have helped bring concepts such as {design + build} and {green + remodeling} to the Atlanta market. We have also witnessed many local and world events over the decades that have helped us evolve and influenced our growth in this industry.

These events have helped shape our process, design, and product offerings. Given current world conflicts over resources, our mission is to continue to create high-performance houses that are healthy, energy-efficient, comfortable, and resilient.

Services offered

  • Custom New Homes– our high- performance luxury homes all receive a green building certification. This means that a 3rd party consults and inspects the home. This insures that it is healthy for your family and has low operating costs.
  • Custom renovations– our team can take any existing home in Atlanta and customize it to not only look amazing but perform better than a standard “code-built” new home.
  • Pre-Construction Design services– whether you have an architect or design picked out already or you are starting from scratch, we are hear to help complete the process. We identify what is needed to com
  • Consulting services– we also offer to consult on design, building science or general construction topics to help you better understand aspects of design and construction

Who are our clients?

We have had the privilege to work with many great Atlantans over the years. Most of our new clients are either repeat clients or referrals from past clients. Our typical client prefers a modern design with the benefits of a high performance home.

Let us help you!

We have learned that with this ever-evolving world, we have to grow and evolve. Part of this is making sure we’re at the cutting edge of design and building science. To follow our journey and learn more about these latest trends- visit our YouTube Channel.

If you are ready to begin your journey towards high-performance living, contact us today.

    Homeowner REroof Preparation Checklist

    Setting Expectations Before the Roof is Replaced

    Setting expectations during a renovation is the toughest part of a remodeler’s job. Working in and around an occupied space is a challenge for both the contractor and the homeowner. We require that our clients move out of the house; however, this is not necessary for small repairs such as roof replacements.

    Georgia Roof Advisors created this checklist to share with our clients so they know what to expect before and after the roof replacement.

    Pre-replacement Homeowner Checklist (1-2 Days Before they arrive)

    For those looking to replace a roof, there is no doubt you have already researched, interviewed, and received bids from several contractors. Once you decide who to use, there are a few other things you need to prepare for before the crew arrives; this is the information we provide our homeowners; we hope it helps you.

    • Remove all breakable items from walls, ceilings, and cabinets.
      Why? Because vibrations can occur during the removal, loading of materials, & installation of your new roof.
    • Cut your lawn cut short before the installation day.
      Why? Because it is easier to find the nails, on average, 15,000 nails will be removed from you roof!
    • Clear your driveway and garage the afternoon before installation
      Why? The dump truck & materials will be parked in the driveway, making it difficult to access. We don’t want you getting trapped in!
    • Remove any outdoor hanging items (plants, wind chimes, etc.)
      Why? We don’t want them to get damaged during install. Most roofing companies will protect specific landscaping, just point these areas out & they should be able to take extra care not to disturb them

    Pre-replacement Homeowner Checklist (Arrival Day)

    • Let neighbors know you are having your roof replaced
      Why? there will be excess noise & extra traffic around your home. You may also want to consider going out, taking your pets with you
    • Take extra care when entering, leaving & walking around during a roof installation.
      Why? The area is considered a building site, as there are hazards such as falling roofing material, nails & pieces of metal
    • Cover any objects you’d like protected If the garage (or attic) is not sheet-rocked
      Why? A roof replacement includes tearing-off your old material, and this can produce construction dust and debris.  
    • Turn your air conditioning units off
      Why? so we can protect them with a plywood shelter. A nail landing in a unit that is on will damage the unit!
    • If you have a pool cover, please put it on!
      Why? To stop us having to go for a swim to collect nails… especially in the winter! It has been done before; we like to learn from our mistakes. Brrrrrrrr!

    The process of having a new roof is disruptive and noisy, but the above steps will help it run as smoothly as possible. I bet you can’t wait to see the results of your beautiful new home!

    Get a Quote for Your Roof Replacement

    Some construction tasks such as roof replacements don’t need a permit so you don’t need a general contractor. If you are adding a second story addition, then SawHorse needs to draw up plans and pull a permit first. If you just need a new roof, then contact Georgia Roof Advisors to set up a consult to see all of the options.

    Virtual Reality Showcase House in Atlanta

    The challenge with showcase houses is that you only get to see the final product (not the process), and once they are over, they are over forever. This is the main reason we stopped doing them a decade ago. The design and construction process are just as important to share as the final product.

    New technology make the showcase house experience better

    Technology has come a long way in 10 years, so we decided to share the complete design + build experience with a local and national audience again.

    Many of our strategic brand partners wanted us to tell their story in the context of a whole-house renovation. We can do so with our blog and YouTube channel; however, we did not feel like that would be enough. When my friends at Mythos Media pitched us on their virtual walkthroughs for Google maps designed for businesses, we asked if that could be done for houses as well.

    Mythos Media Explains How the Process Works

    The majority of their work is for businesses that have storefronts. They can create a virtual tour that gets added to the business profile on Google Maps. Roger Knipp explains how this technology works and how they are using it for the #1920sMakeoverATL.

    We call this virtual reality; however, it is a real house, and the images are real. The VR experience allows the viewer to explore the house if they cannot visit it in person.

    What It Takes To Create a Virtual Tour

    Creating a VR house is not easy. Here are some of the things we had to do to make the 1st part of the tour possible:

    • Mythos Media brought their fancy cameras to the house to film in different locations so the self guided tour experience would be seamless
    • They used plans from LG Squared to map the tour so the planning was done off site.
    • We created content in the form of videos and written posts to be added to the tour. If you are creating a tour of a house to sell, this is not necessary, however it does enhance the users experience.
    • We hired a local musician to play a period piece to add to the tour.
    • Our partners on the house have helped us create content to share about the design process

    All of this work was needed to create the 1st part of the tour. Roger with Mythos Media is coming back two more times to document the house at critical milestones. The next filming will be right before the drywall is installed, and the final filming will be when the house is 100% complete. We chose these milestones to share the building process with the contractors and the final design with the interior design community.

    Here is a sample of the VR tour showing the house before we started construction. We are in the demolition phase right now, so once the foundation and framing are finished, we will film the house again.

    Click Below to Enter The VR Tour

    How to apply for a permit online with the City of Atlanta

    Since the pandemic, many municipalities have moved their permitting process online since face-to-face is no longer an option. The city of Atlanta has done this as well, and if you are not familiar with their new process, your permit may be delayed by weeks or months.

    Putting together your team

    SawHorse is a design + build firm; however, sometimes we accept plans from other architects if their clients align with our luxury high-performance approach to building. Getting a permit through the Atlanta process is mostly dependent on having an architect who knows the process and what is needed. If they have not completed a permit set of plans recently, feel free to share this post with them. I’m writing this to share with the preferred architects that we already work with to speed up the permit process. The rules are constantly changing and we’ve experienced some changes this year that affected plans that were already in the permitting approval process.

    “Tree and Topo” Survey

    If you are altering any part of the exterior or planning on expanding the footprint of your house, you will need a new survey. The standard survey you order when buying a house is called a “boundary survey,” It is good to know where your house sits on the property; however, this is not sufficient to get a permit. A “tree and topo” survey is a boundary survey that also has the topography of your property and all trees that are a certain diameter (typically 6″ and greater). Once your architect draws the house, they will add the new house to the survey OR they will engage the surveyor to add to the survey to show the proposed renovation or new house. This is called a “site plan.” Once the house is completed, some municipalities require that the surveyor return to confirm that the house was built per the plans.

    We recommend that our clients get a tree and topo survey before we start the design process. This way we can avoid potential issues or conditions on the property that would prevent us from building. Some of the issues we have seen on recent projects are not limited to:

    • Setbacks– these are the imaginary lines that you are allowed to build the house within. If the side yard setback is 7 feet, then you cannot build your addition 5 feet off the property line without special permission.
    • Creeks and Streams– anything within 75 feet of your proposed work (if you are digging footings or disturbing the soil) is managed by the city and you have to get special permission to building in this area. If you are within 25 of the stream, then you have to get additional permission from the state. The city only can grant permission between 25 and 75 feet. Note: this does not mean that you can build right at 25 feet, because you footings will encroach further into the setback and disturb soil within reach of the state waters. We recommend allowing for a buffer for the erosion control fense.
    • Trees– If you plan to cut down a tree you will have to either pay a fine (recompense) OR will have to plant trees on other parts of the property to replace the trees you plan to cut down. If you cut down a tree without permission, you may have to pay a fine + recompense unless you talk to the arborist to work out new plantings to offset the fees. There are 2 parts of the tree that you need to know about and these are based on the diamter of the tree. The “critical root zone” that extends around the tree is 1 foot for every 1″ of the girth of the tree at chest heigh of the surveyor. The “structural root plate” is a smaller circle around the base of the tree and must be avoided. You are allowed a percentage impact of the critical root zone only. Otherwise, you will need to hire an arborist to write a plan to save the tree.
    • Utility easements– if there is a city sewer running through your property, then you cannot build any permanent structures within 10 feet of the center of pipe. The survey and site plan will show an agregate 20 feet “sewer easement” that you must avoid. We did have a design once that was going to be impacted so our client elected to pay to move the sewer in order to faciliate the addition.
    • Property Line Disputes– we had a client a few years ago that thought they owned an extra 10 feet based on their survey. When we applied for the permit, the city’s records showed differently. Eventually we were able to get this corrected on the survey and the plans, otherwise the architect would have to redraw the plans. A fresh survey that references the “meets and bounds” can help avoid this.

    Labeling The Plans

    Your plans will get sent back with a 2-3 PDF explaining how to label the plans if you don’t attempt to follow the proper format. The first time this happened to us, it took them weeks to respond to our questions about the formatting. They gave us dozens of labels to consider however for a residential set of plans you ONLY NEED TO LABEL THE FOLLOWING for 99% of your permits.

    Plan Review TypeAbbreviationPages Needed
    ApplicationAPPFull application- don’t break out
    ArboristAPRSite Plan (showing trees)
    BuildingBPRFull Set of plans
    Site DevelopmentSDRSite Plan
    ZoningZPRFull Set of plans
    common departments that will review your plans

    The formatting for saving the files before you upload them- Plan Review Type_Address_Version_Descriptor (If Applicable)

    So if we were creating a set of plans for our office address and the arborist needed to review them it would look like this:


    If they required changes and we have to resubmit it would look like this:

    APR_690MIAMICIR_V2 (note that the version changed)

    Since it is the arborist, we are only saving the site plan and not sending the full set of plans to their department. Our last permit had V6 for one department while another approved V1. This can be confusing since the approvals for that department are not on the latest set of plans. For consistency, you can request that they review the updated versions for the other departments even if they are not changes for them so all of the plans look the same.

    How to format plans from your architect

    Hopefully, your architect knows how to format them, however, if they are not formatted you can correct them.

    Rename the main set by “saving as” and save the whole set for building and zoning.

    Figure out the size of the paper the plans need to be printed on for a full-scale set. The use of the print function to print the site plan page only for the arborist and site development. Print to “pdf” which will automatically create the page in the format you need. You may need to include a couple of pages if the details spill over to another page. Use the chart below to know which size paper to “print” to.

    Size InchesMillimeters
    ARCH A 9 x 12229 x305
    ARCH B12 x 18305 x 457
    ARCH C12 x 24457 x 610
    ARCH D24 x 36610 x 914
    ARCH E36 x 48914 x 1219
    ARCH E130 x 42762 x 1067
    North American ARCH Series Paper Size

    Common mistakes that we see on design plans that are brought to us:

    • Plans are not marked as “released for construction”
    • The engineer’s plans do not line up with the architects plans. Could be working off the wrong version.
    • Missing Site Plan
    • Missing Scale
    • Address for project on plans
    • Survey is not accurate or is old with outdated information
    • Watershed is not calculated. Now the city requires site water to be manages if there are over 500 feet disturbed.
    • Average Elevation Greater than 35′
    • Current building codes are no properly refenced- visit this site and make sure the codes match what they are stating is needed. Also make sure any construction details match the codes. We see quite a few old energy code details that are not updated on recent plans. ie Ceiling Insulation shown as R30 when the current code states R38. This could affect framing and other detaisl so it is important to know the current codes when creating the permit set.

    Need to know where the sewers are located?

    Applying Online for the permit

    The difficult part of applying online is drawing, preparing, and formatting the plans.

    Once you have all of the plans ready and detailed per the City of Atlanta checklists you can submit them for review online.

    The first stop is zoning. They will make sure there are not any zoning issues and once you get the green light from them they will distribute the labeled plans to the other departments. No other departments will have access until you get the approval from zoning.

    • Arborist– looks at the site plan to make sure all of the trees are protected
    • Building– reviews the construction drawings to make sure they are code compliant
    • Site Development– review the site plan to make sure sewers and surface water to managed properly

    You can track their progress online and you will also get notifications from the system if there are comments. The system does not always show all of the calls, emails, and correspondence so we keep our own logs in buildertrend just in case.

    Final Steps to get the permit

    Once the plans get approved by ALL of the departments, you will receive a message from the city as follows:

    To request for issuance of your permit, please read the below link, it instructs you to complete forms you should email to

    You will be emailed an invoice to pay your outstanding permit balance online.

    Once you have completed the necessary forms, the approved plans and permit will be released. You will email the forms to When we open your email with the completed forms attached, we will forward your request to the plan coordination permit technician to get your plans coordinated and ready for issuance. That person will email you with further instructions.

    Forms link below:
    Applications, Forms, and Checklists | Atlanta, GA (
    If Homeowner servicing as their own General Contractor, please complete the following.
    – Homeowner Affidavit
    – Homeowner Driver’s License
    – Contractor License Exception Affidavit
    – Contractor Agent Affidavit Authorization (If being release to someone other than homeowner)
    – A demo permit may not be issued using the homeowner affidavit. A contractor is required when performing a complete demo, or removing more than 50% of the house

    If Contractor carries a Georgia State Card from Secretary of State. We need the following completed forms for processing.
    – Business License
    – Contractor License Affidavit
    – Ga. State Card
    – Contractor’s Driver’s License
    – Contractor Agent Affidavit Authorization (If being released to someone other than the contractor on the Ga State License, and their Driver’s License)

    If Contractor does not carry a Georgia State Card from Secretary of State. We need the following completed forms for processing.
    – Business License
    – Contractor License Exception Affidavit
    – Contractor’s Driver’s License
    – Contractor Agent Affidavit Authorization (If being released to someone other than the contractor on the Business License, and their Driver’s License)

    IF DEMO PERMITS: Please secure a sewer plug permit through Accela or contact Accela Citizen Access
    Submit copy of current Rodent Letter (issued to you within 30 days of permit issuance)

    IF PLACARDED PROPERTIES: If the property has a placard from City of Atlanta Code Enforcement, 818 Pollard Blvd, Atlanta, GA 30315. Release papers from City of Atlanta Code Enforcement (404-546-3800) must accompany other required documents.

    All forms must be notarized.
    Thank you,

    City of Atlanta
    Department of City Planning
    Office of Buildings

    Need Help?

    Since we are a licensed contractor and offer design + build services, we manage this process for our clients. If you are a homeowner wanting to self GC your project, then there are permit expeditors that can help you through this process. We only pull permits for projects that we are constructing as well since they are tied to our license.

    If you have a set of plans and want to work with us, we can audit them to let you know what is needed to pull a permit with the City of Atlanta. Contact us today to start the process and we can assist you with all of the details that are missing from the plans so you can start construction and realize your dream home sooner than later.

      “[Silly] Dad- LEGOs are NOT Toys”

      My youngest son helped me around the house this weekend to earn some money. Of course, the money burned a hole in his pocket (he is 9), so he spent it at Target immediately. He was choosing between legos and some other toys. My rule is that I’ll pay half for certain items such as LEGOs and learning items. This was to encourage better choices instead of buying toys lasting only a year or two. After much deliberation, he chose a couple of small LEGO kits.

      On the way home from Target, I asked him if he thought the work he did to buy the toys was worth it. My son corrected me:

      “LEGOs are NOT Toys”

      He said, “Yes, It Was Worth It!”

      How could I argue with that? Or why would I? LEGOs are part of our culture, and they are a great way to introduce our sons and daughters to building and the concept of “making” at an early age. Feb 27 was “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” as part of the National Engineer’s Week programming. LEGOs are a great gateway activity to a fun career for boys and girls. Plus, I have never seen an age limit on the packages. It is always a [insert starting age] + which means ALL ages can enjoy them after you are old enough to know not to eat them.

      Back in the Day…

      When I was his age, my parents gave me carpentry tools, LEGOs, and other building “toys.” I have to say that those items, Boy Scouts and the science fairs helped establish a good foundation for attending GA Tech.

      Most of the things that I am interested in now, I was exposed to at an early age. Some studies show that girls and boys may lose interest in engineering and the sciences if they don’t develop a passion for them early in life.

      We Need Your Vote

      I never knew that LEGO kits could be voted on to be considered for mass production. Here is an idea for a SOLAR FARM complete with solar collectors, grass, flowers and bees.

      What a great way to introduce our children to LEGOS and sustainable practices at the same time. LEGO already has a wind turbine kit, a modern home with rooftop solar, and a space station with solar panels. Even with those creative options, we can do better for our children.

      Place your vote here today to help bring this from concept to creation!

      Tour of a 1920’s Makeover in Atlanta- [Getting Started]

      Old houses have lots of charm and patina; however, they also have issues due to decades of neglect. In this “1920’s Makeover,” we are working with some of our strategic partners at LG Squared. Together we will develop a design that preserves the charm while correcting building science mistakes.

      1920's Makeover In Atlanta, Georgia
      The house has lots of charm in existing form, however it needs lots of TLC.

      Design + Build team

      SawHorse owner Matt Hoots and LG Squared’s Chris Laumer-Giddens will be creating content at each phase of design and construction. Jodi Laumer-Giddens is the lead architect/ designer and will have floor plans to share in the next post. Matt and Chris will share how they will bring this 100-year-old house into the 21st century using “building science.”

      Here is a video tour of the current state of the house, along with a couple of design ideas:

      About this 1920’s whole house Makeover

      This is a custom house for a client that plans to sell it once we are renovating it. We will begin with a comprehensive floor plan that will add bedrooms and bathrooms. We will also focus on building science so the new owner will enjoy a more comfortable, healthy, and energy-efficient home. If you are interested in buying the final product, contact the agent. It will be listed towards the end of 2021.

      We’ve also created a playlist that will host all of the video content that Matt and Chris will be creating throughout the process. You will be able to buy this house with confidence, knowing that we put a lot of thought into making it better.

      We will also be exploring green certifications such as EarthCraft Renovation to demonstrate how the green building process makes homes better.

      Additional Reading for advice on older homes

      Video: Why your paint is pealing

      Video: The most efficient electric water heater

      Blog: Mistakes Made in Basement Renovations

      Contact Us: We can help you design and build your dream space

      Top 6 mistakes most designers and contractors make in basement renovations

      A basement renovation is a great way to create more usable space in your home cost-effectively. Just because basements are cheaper (per square foot) than an addition, this does not mean that you should cut corners. Here are some of the top things to consider or avoid when finishing your basement.

      We used tile on the floors, which is water-resistant. We could also use a drop ceiling to conceal all of the ductwork on the main floor and basement.

      1. Improper HVAC design + Humidity Control

      It is very tempting to add a duct or two from the existing HVAC system when renovating the basement. Not only is this NOT code in most jurisdictions, but it also does not work well.

      The best solution is for the basement to have its own system. The system should be designed by a professional based on the conditions in the basement. You will have problems if your HVAC contractor installs a system that is too small or too large. The basement will not be comfortable, and you may have humidity issues as well.

      We recommend avoiding any open combustion equipment such as standard efficient water heaters or furnaces fueled by natural gas. These systems can cause hazardous conditions, such as adding Carbon Monoxide to your air supply.

      In addition to the HVAC system, you should consider a dehumidification system. This will help reduce the humidity when the system is not running. Energy recovery ventilators are also a great way to bring in fresh air while exhausting your house’s air pollutants.

      2. BEFORE renovating your basement, you should manage bulk water from entering your home

      Basements, by definition, are partly or entirely below grade. Older homes that used brick or cinder blocks were not designed to be waterproof when they were built. Newer homes with solid concrete foundations may have waterproofing in place already. Cracks may still form in the concrete so water can come through. Even though it is NOT code, we recommend internal waterproofing on all basement renovations that include finished space. Bulk water can cause structural damage and mold.

      Basement waterproofing progress photo. The exposed brick to the right of the plastic has evidence of water infiltration from the exterior.

      If there was no evidence of water leaking into the house, OR if our clients told us that there were no previous leaks, we would not waterproof the basement again. Due to weather patterns causing previously DRY basements to become wet, we are now recommending bulk water management on ALL of our basement renovations.

      Bulk water should first be addressed from the exterior of the house. The grade needs to slope AWAY from the foundation, so bulk water is NOT ponding. Foundations should be waterproofed from the exterior for best results. If landscaping prevents this from happening, then there are interior waterproofing solutions that work as well.

      3. Radon testing before renovating the basement

      Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer in the US. Good ventilation or leaky houses through passive ventilation can decrease the Radon levels. When basements are renovated, they are brought up to the current building and energy codes. In most cases, this means they are built with fewer air leaks. If the contractor does not design the HVAC system to bring in the fresh air, then the Radon levels could increase! It is best to test for Radon before the renovation starts. Radon remediations are much cheaper BEFORE the basement is finished.

      Another good way to deal with Radon and musty odors in basements is to install an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV). ERV’s are designed to remove stale air while bringing in the fresh air at the same time. This is a balanced ventilation strategy which is is better than exhaust ventilation. The Exhaust-only method causes air to come in uncontrolled into the area, which brings in humidity or dirty air.

      4. Improper flooring in a basement renovation

      Heirloom – Lafayette College

      If you have hardwood in the rest of your house, you may want the same look in your basement. Traditional hardwood floors are not a good idea in the basement due to potential moisture damage. Moisture can come up through the concrete foundation or from leaks on other levels. Warped hardwoods due to moisture are not ideal.

      Moisture-resistant flooring like polished concrete or tile is optimal if they fit with the design. Other composite flooring options that are water-resistant provide a unique look for your basement design.

      5. Improper insulation details in a basement renovation

      There are 2 types on insulation that you need in basements. The first is insulation for thermal control. The 2nd is insulation for sound control. The thermal insulation should be installed on the outside walls of the basement that are adjacent to the exterior. In some climate zones, insulation should be installed below the concrete slab as well.

      So how do contractors mess up these details?

      Insulate and Air-seal

      Insulation in a house is only effective when paired with air-sealing. Fiberglass insulation is useless if air can pass through it. Air sealing is the process of sealing all of the gaps in the exterior walls. This decreases your heating and cooling costs. Air sealing also helps keep bugs out, which seems to make our clients happy!

      Some insulations such as spray foam can air seal and insulate at the same time. We also consider ROCKWOOL, which adds fire protection that spray foam does not offer.

      This details shows the insulation on the exterior which is preferred. However, for existing basements you can install on the interior since access to the foundation may not be feasible.

      6. Basement Renovation with Low ceilings

      When I bought my current house, the basement had 8-foot ceilings without any soffits for mechanicals. Sounds good, right? Most basements barely have 8 feet to the bottom of the main level’s floor joists. I should have been happy.


      The previous owner installed a drop ceiling right 8 feet when the floor’s joists’ bottom was 10.5′ above the finished floor. They wasted 30″ of space that should have been wide open.

      The best solution is to make sure the plumbing, HVAC, and electrical components are designed to go between the floor joists so you don’t lose all of that space. If the ductwork needs to go below the floor joists, then a 12″ drop ceiling is plenty to conceal the ductwork and plumbing if it is designed properly.

      Another option is to use exposed HVAC ductwork similar to a commercial space. It is more industrial looking; however, the space is much larger, and you do not feel claustrophobic.

      Additional Reading

      Top 5 Mistakes in Kitchen Designs

      Aluminum clad windows versus fiberglass windows

      Does a house needs to breathe?

      Groutless Shower Wall Panels

      Need Help with Your Home? Contact us today

      Top ways to save lumber on job sites

      The current pandemic along with increased demand for housing and lumber tariffs have created the perfect storm for contractors. Lumber costs have up significantly over the last year.

      While you cannot completely avoid the increase in costs, there is still a little hope. Here are some common-sense strategies that we use in our designs and on our job sites. The NAHB came up with a similar list that was the inspiration for this post.

      1. Design to the standard dimensions of the lumber

      This may seem obvious; however, many architects do not do this. A sheet of plywood is 4 feet by 8 feet. If the room’s exterior dimensions are designed to be 13 x 13, then there will be a lot of waste with the wood. Designing in increments of 2 feet or 4 feet is ideal for minimizing waste.

      2. Consider alternative lumber species

      The lumber shortage is mostly in categories that use softwoods. Hardwoods don’t seem to be affected right now, so consider eco-friendly hardwoods for structural components. I received this email from one of my vendors that provides eco-decking:


      We have just launched our newest product, Robi® Glulams, the first hardwood glulams constructed out of Black Locust. Combining the durability, strength, and natural class A fire rating of Black Locust with glulam technology, this innovative product enables us to produce wider and longer pieces of wood than is possible with standard solid lumber.  Currently are producing 2” thick material that is 12” wide and up to 12 feet long. Soon we will begin producing 2” thick by 12” wide by 16-foot long material. The glulams can be cut and processed to smaller dimensions and are great for structural framing, in-ground applications, benches, handrails, stair treads, facia board, and anywhere the imagination takes it.

      3. Reuse Lumber for other projects

      Good wood should not go in the dumpster!

      If we over-order and the wood is in great condition, it can be returned for a refund. That does not often happen, so we usually take all of the dimensional lumber to the next job site. If it is not perfect, it can be used for forms, site protection, or bracing.

      We made a structure for our son’s cub scout pack that was 99% repurposed materials.

      4. Advanced Framing

      Ironically it is called “advanced framing” when in fact is simplifying the framing process. This framing technique uses less wood while allowing for more insulation which. Not only do you save on framing costs, but you also save on heating and cooling costs as a result of the increased R-Value!

      Additional Reading:

      2021 International Builders Show

      5 Sustainable Building Materials

      Top 5 Mistakes that Designers and Contractors make in Kitchen Designs

      A kitchen is more than just “cabinets and countertops.” If you are redesigning the whole space, design, durability, and building science are major considerations that need to be applied to the plan. Here are some observations on how our industry can do better and suggestions we make for our clients. The good news is that all of these common mistakes are easily avoidable through good design and proper product selection.

      1. Improper Use of Contractor Grade Outlets and Switches in Kitchens

      Any kitchen design competition that has contractor-grade outlets and switches installed should be disqualified from entry. Sounds petty; however, hear me out, and you will understand why this is important.

      Why would you invest thousands on a design grade backsplash, then slap a 68 cent outlet with a 47 cover plate on it? Why would you cut a hole in the side of an expensive island to install that same basic white outlet and cover? Kitchens are one of the most costly rooms in the house, so $50 in upgraded outlets will not break the budget.

      If a high-end outlet is not in the budget, you can easily find a Decora-style outlet or switch with a matching cover that is NOT bright white. It will also blend into the surface versus sticking out with all of its utility-grade glory.

      Bad and Good examples of how to use outlets and switches in a kitchen or bar.

      SawHorse Case Study

      Outlet and Switch Observations

      These are images of one of our projects where the electrician just finished installing the outlets. The white outlets on the backsplash made me sick inside, so we selected a color that would blend in better. They did recognize that white would not look good on the peninsula, so they installed black. They also correctly used white on the wall at the end of the peninsula.

      Outlet and Switch Solutions

      If design grade outlets and switches are not in the budget, at least match the color or find a complementary color. The cost to upgrade to a decora outlet/ switch with a screwless cover is just a few dollars. This small change can make a big difference in the space design instead of looking like a “design wart.”

      Here is an example of an outlet that we used on a white kitchen island recently. Yes- that is an outlet. It pops out when you need to plug something in, and it conveniently pops back in after you are done. This looks much better on an expensive island than a cheap utility-grade outlet.

      2. Improper Ventilation in Kitchens

      There are 2 smells that people seem to like that are not good for your health. The first is the “new car smell”- that smell is full of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The name alone should be an indicator that you should not breathe these toxins.

      The second is the aroma coming from the kitchen. Cooking can also produce indoor air pollution. Natural gas can produce carbon monoxide and other harmful pollutants. Cooking itself can release unhealthy pollutants from the heating oils, especially at high temperatures. Even cleaning is bad. Most cleaning agents contain VOCs as well.

      Solutions to help Indoor Air Quality in Kitchens

      Reduce the source of the pollutants

      Simple using cleaners that do not contain toxic VOC’s is a no- brainer. There are plenty of non-toxic cleaners on the market.

      I also mentioned that there are harmful byproducts created in the combustion process with natural gas. If you have the means to do so, choosing an induction cooktop can greatly reduce the amount of air pollution in your kitchen. Induction cooktops also cook faster, so any potential pollutants have less time to enter your airspace.

      Properly Designed Ventilation

      There are several considerations when designing ventilation for your kitchen. The first consideration is the type of range that you are using. You want to make sure the range hood exhaust is designed with the proper CFM (cubic feet per minute). The 2nd consideration is allowing designed “makeup air.” The final consideration is education on how and when to use ventilation.

      Let’s discuss sizing the ventilation for the type of range that you are using first. There are codes and standards that we will discuss in a separate post. The first ventilation device to avoid is not actually taking the air out of the space. There are items on the market that recirculate the air back into the area after some basic filtration occurs. It would be best if you had an actual exhaust hood designed to capture the heat, water vapor, and pollutants and vent them directly to the outside of the structure.

      Just because you have an exhaust hood designed to take the bad air out of the house means you are done. For all of the air that leaves the space, you need “make-up” air entering the structure to replace it. A balanced approach that brings in this air through the mechanical system is ideal. Otherwise, you are bringing air in from possible toxic areas such as moldy crawlspaces or smelly attics.

      Finally, knowing when you use the ventilation is important. Anytime you are using the cooktop or oven (if you have a range), the ventilation should be turned on. There are some ventilation systems with sensors that detect bad indoor air quality near the range and turn on the exhaust for you if needed.

      3. Countertops that are not durable

      If you just plan to use your kitchen to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches then skip this section.

      Let’s be honest, you are going to use and abuse your kitchen. It is designed to prepare and host meals for your family and friends. The surface that will get the most abuse (along with the floor) is the countertop.

      White/ light countertops are trending right now, and everyone loves the look of marble. It has natural veining that brings some more organic-like design to the space. The marble looks great; however, it is NOT kitchen-friendly.

      This is why we prefer quartz composites or centered stone countertops if you want that natural marble look. We interviewed NEOLITH and CAMBRIA at the Kitchen and Bathroom Show last year and also created this Pinterest Board showing even more marble top options for your kitchen.

      4. Lack of Circulation around island and appliances

      The building code only requires that you have 36″ clearance around the island for circulation. This is a minimum! Many designs only use this basic standard instead of increasing it to 42″ or 48″, which allows for multiple people in the space at the same time.

      This allows the person to prepare the food to be able to do so safely while others are in their work areas. Wider pathways are inviting when entertaining guests so they can use the space without feeling confined.

      5. Design for the appliances in the open position

      36″ is OK at best when the oven is shut, and no one is using the fridge. That is not realistic, though. It is best to design the fridge to allow for good circulation when open, NOT closed. Better yet- design it so there is no island within 5 feet of it so there will not be any kitchen traffic jams.

      Ovens don’t have to be in the immediate area since you don’t have to watch your food bake. If you have a slide-in range, make sure people can navigate the door when it is open. This allows more than 1 person to use that space at the same time and helps prevent burns.

      What other mistakes have you seen?

      This could easily be a top 10 list and could turn into a white paper in the future. What other common design mistakes have you seen in kitchen design?

      Related Content

      Induction Cooktops versus Electric Cooktops

      Top Mistakes Made in Basement Renovations

      High Performance Windows and Doors

      If you need assistance with your kitchen design contact us today:

        Note- some of the links are created with an affiliate link generator. If you choose to buy anything from the links, you are helping our coffee fund so we can continue to create content like this for your enjoyment.

        International Builders Show & KBIS 2021 Day 1 Review

        I attended the International Builders Show last year in Las Vegas. They hosted over 1700 exhibitors to include ones from the Kitchen and Bath Show (KBIS). This year due to COVID-19, the show is online with just over 300 exhibitors. I remember hearing whispers about COVID-19 when I was at the show in Vegas last year. However, I had no idea what the rest of the year was going to be like. Fortunately, I interviewed quite a few amazing vendors so I could create some videos for my clients. The primary purpose was to talk to key manufacturers about products that my clients need for their houses. I got lucky. Those interviews got over 100K views over the past year. This year I was invited to attend with a “press pass.” I am also interviewing for our sister company and green building directory- Rate It Green.

        Even though there are less exhibitors, it is still impossible to see all 300+. When there was 1700, I was barely able to talk to 100 or so and had to walk miles to even accomplish that feat. This time, I get to do all of these interviews from the comfort of my home office. The main thing that I miss from last year is the catered food and after hours events.

        This year’s show is online for obvious reasons. I did hear that the first day was pretty rocky due to some technical glitches, however, I did not notice. I was fortunate enough to have interviews lined up off the platform before the show started. Here are a few of the highlights of the video interviews that took place on February 9th.

        All of these will be posted on our YouTube channel once they are edited.

        Infinity Drain

        The first interview was with Johnathan Brill of Infinity Drain. It was a great start to the day, especially since they had such a great story to tell. Aside from being a great product, they had several key points that resonated with me.

        Made in the USA

        As a Veteran, this gave me goosebumps. The trend is for many manufacturers to take their production overseas. Fortunately, some of them found it more advantageous to stay here in the US. A term that is used quite often in the green building world is “resilience.” While this is commonly applied to buildings, this is the application to companies as well.

        Jonathan told me that other manufactures were struggling with supplies since their operations were global. Due to their ability to source and manufacture in the US, Infinity Drain did not experience these same supply chain issues. Since they are made in the US and the materials are also US-based, they could keep up with contractor demands in 2020 and 2021.

        In addition to not having supply chain issues, they also introduced some bold initiatives. They created a “next day” custom program for many of their products. This is especially important for showers that are designer grade and need a linear drain that does not have a reveal around it.

        Taking care of their neighbors

        As we all know, this pandemic has impacted many families, and as a result, “food insecurity” is more of an issue. We only had a short period of time for our interview. Regardless, Jonathan used a large part of that time to talk about community outreach instead of sharing the benefits of their product.

        You would think that their commitment to “Made in the USA” was enough. No- they want to feed their neighbors as well. Jonathan was restless, seeing the news that his neighbors were hungry, so he had to get involved. His company now helps prepare 1000 “warm” meals/ month to be delivered to those who need it.

        Good job Infinity Drain!

        Cradle to Cradle

        Their shower pans are made from stainless steel, which is 100% recyclable. They repurpose 100% of the scraps in the manufacturing process. When you renovate the space decades from now, you can either send the metal back to Infinity Drain, OR you can recycle it at a local scrapyard.


        Just like Infinity Drain, Broan-Nutone manufacturer in the US, or North America. I was even reminded of this on our YouTube channel comment section by several of their workers when I reviewed another similar ventilation project. The sense of pride is strong with their staff, which means they care about quality and innovation.

        David Jones, Senior Marketing Manager for Broan was kind enough to share some of their newest product lines with me. They’ve been busy, especially with new ways to keep your air clean in your house. They have a new bath fan that kills bacteria, an ERV that is self-balancing, and sensors that monitor for bad air.

        OVERTURE Connected Indoor Air

        These sensors monitor bad indoor air quality (IAQ). They can detect microparticles, CO2, humidity, to name a few. Most sensors give you the data, and you have to take action. These not only give you alerts, but they also take action. They are connected to the exhaust fans in your house and will turn on the nearest fan to immediately exhaust the bad air out of the space.

        Disco Bath Fan

        David took the time to go through all of their social media channels and mentioned that they were not on Tik Tok (yet). Neither is SawHorse. The next slide in his presentation was a bath fan that changed colors to encourage kids to use it. It is called the NuTone® ChromaComfort™ w/ Sensonic™ Stereo Bluetooth® Speaker. I forgot to mention that it also has a speaker! I’m pretty sure this will be the first item showcased when they launch their Tik Toc channel. Check out this video describing it.

        Here is a link to what it looks like on Amazon with a full description. I see that it is blue tooth enabled, so I wonder if you can control it when you are not in the bathroom. It sounds like you can create a “custom experience” for your guests.

        Broan® AI Series™ 160 CFM Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV)

        David also told me about one of their newest products that can help bring fresh air into your home. I wrote a piece on how ERV’s work for Rate It Green just in case you are not familiar with them. Broan’s video below does a great job explaining the benefits of this ERV. It can also be connected to the OVERTURE IAQ sensors that I described in the first section.

        STEP Warmfloor

        When I first agreed to this interview, I was expecting to see another floor that you can use to heat your bathrooms only. I was NOT expecting the amazing talk that I had with Monica Irgens, the Electro Plastics president.

        Her husband developed a self-regulating PTC semi-conductive polymer. What did he do this? It was not to help us keep our feet warm in the winter. It was in response to a death in a car that caught fire when the seat warmer malfunctioned. Now they have expanded into other markets such as heating floors and boats with this amazing technology. They are even helping keep critical components warm in frigid climates for “Uncle Sam.”

        How is it self regulating?

        Once we edit and share the video, you will see Monica doing an amazing job explaining exactly how it works. My takeaway is that when their product expands, it does not heat up as much. This allows for it to be safe in applications where there is wood or carpet, unlike other metal resistance coils. It is also much more energy efficient to operate than standard heated floors.

        Sharp Appliances

        I’m not going to lie- we had a great interview for 60 minutes with James Sanduski, president at SHARP Home Electronics Company of America, and Peter Weedfald, SVP of Sales and Marketing SHARP Home Appliances. We covered all of the features of their kitchen appliances and how they are energy efficient. We also spoke about some of their air purifiers that help filter and reduce indoor air pollution. There will be 4-5 videos later just on what they talked about.

        They saved the best news for last

        At minute 60 min mark in the interview, I commented on how our boys love to cook popcorn in the microwave. They replied that theirs are Alexa enabled. I could imagine my 9-year old telling the microwave what to do from the next room!

        When they heard that, they said that they have been coordinating with the brand, Orville Redenbacher, to create the perfect microwave popcorn experience. Once where the popcorn does not burn or where the microwave does not leave an excess of unpopped kernels.

        Yes- I did like their new appliances designs and IAQ. However, how can you beat perfect popcorn?

        What’s next

        We are meeting with another 15 or manufacturers during the show and will share their stories this weekend.

        Looks out for new videos on our Youtube channel over the next few weeks documenting some of these unique and exciting products. We will also be creating pieces related to all-electric homes and healthy homes for Rate It Green.

        Contact Us

        If you need help with your project and want to use some of these cutting-edge products, fill out the form below.

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