Chuck Homan started his career in construction back in the mid-1970’s working as a laborer for a homebuilder who rarely showed up to the jobsite. Chuck ended up running those jobs, so his father, a banker, suggested he might as well go out on his own. The two Homans, dad and son, started their business in 1978 with the financial backing of Chuck Senior and the construction skills of Chuck Junior, then only 19 years old.
Today, 40 years later, Chuck is still remodeling and building homes in the Last Frontier -- a place where materials can be hard to come by and energy bills can go sky-high in the winter. We spoke with Chuck, a Certified Green home builder, about why building with sustainability is good for the planet and makes great financial sense, too.
Chuck, what are some of the ups and downs you’ve experienced in your decades as a homebuilder in Alaska?
The biggest struggle is working with people who fail to keep their word, either intentionally or because they are overly optimistic about their abilities. In the construction industry, when one trade contractor fails to complete their portion on time, it has a ripple effect on the entire project. I need to reschedule all the other contractors, which is difficult when they’ve made other commitments. The whole project gets set back.
I especially like bringing together all the different components and all the various people it takes to build or remodel a home and then seeing the finished product when we’ve all done our parts. I also enjoy the industry camaraderie with other builders through the Homebuilding Association.
Of course, the best part of having my own home-building business is the opportunity to work for myself and make better money than if I was working for someone else.
One of Chuck’s site-built homes in Alaska
Alaska is pretty far removed from the “Lower 48” states. What impact does this have on your business and your timelines?
Getting products in a timely manner can be difficult up here. In the homebuilding and remodeling industry, the variety of materials available to the client over the past decade has drastically increased and is constantly changing. As a result, the local suppliers keep very little inventory in stock, and the materials must be ordered from out of state. It can take four to eight weeks for the materials to reach Alaska. If the product is defective, has been damaged in shipping or is the wrong product it can take another month to get the replacement.
As a certified green builder, what sustainability principles guide how you approach a new build or a remodel?
I encourage clients to select quality-made products that will last. Much of what is sold today is poorly constructed and will wear out in a short period of time. It’s very much a part of sustainable building to not have to remodel or rebuild again because your materials were low quality.
Paying a little more for the product means it will last longer and require less maintenance. Building an energy efficient structure has more benefits than just using less energy to heat. Overall, it’s a more comfortable experience living in the home.
So using sustainable materials to build from the start makes good financial sense?
Yes. Many of the building industry material-suppliers are embracing sustainable practices today, like using the entire tree to produce building materials. The floor joists we use are made using much less lumber than a conventional floor joist. Manufactured I-joists and studs mean there is less shrinkage and movement within the structure. Materials are straighter, so they’re quicker to install and finish.
Paint finishes on manufactured siding lasts ten years, while wood siding needed to be refinished in three to five years. This same principle applies to plumbing fixtures and faucets -- cheaper ones with plastic parts wear out really fast. Spend a little more, and you’ll have a faucet that lasts for years.
Almost by default, most of the manufacturers I work with rely on sustainable sources. For example, they’ll use lumber from tree farms, not old-growth forests.
Remodel of a 1960’s home to expand the kitchen
Are your clients concerned about building green or using sustainable products?
With all the remodeling and homebuilding information on the Internet today owners are more informed than ever before. Some clients will research the products to verify the manufacturer is using sustainable practices. They are concerned about the indoor air quality and are aware of the need for good ventilation.
What are some major changes you’ve seen toward green construction in your 40 years of being a homebuilder?
The biggest change is that homes used to be very leaky. Years ago, there was never a concern with indoor air quality and mold. Now, with the demand for more energy efficiency in homes, we tighten up houses with vapor barriers and better insulation, which can trap moisture and cause mold. It’s a big issue. We need to figure in proper ventilation and insulation to avoid condensation problems which lead to mold.
Here’s an example of another change. When I started in 1978, we used ceiling insulation with an R-value of 19, which is the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. In the 1980s, a push began for more energy-efficient homes, and we went up to R-30. Today we use R-49 in the ceilings of the homes we build in Alaska.
One more change: People now want hard-surface flooring instead of carpet. Today it’s standard to use manufactured Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) which looks like wood, stone, tile or marble but is very water resistant and durable.
Most of the paints we’re using today are low-VOC (volatile organic compound) with minimal harmful fumes. Instead of lacquer or oil-based products to finish the woodwork, we’ll use water-based polyurethane to cut down on fumes.
Can you share any career insight with entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Join the trade association for your industry to take advantage of the available educational and networking opportunities. Through these associations you will meet people who are successful in your industry and are willing to share their knowledge with you. Find a niche and a need in your industry that you enjoy, and focus on being the best you can in that segment servicing your clients.
More information about green building and sustainability:
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