My “Green” Come True
By Cathy Jarl, Forever Home
Unlike cookie cutter homes, a custom-built home requires you to make decisions regarding every aspect of the design as well as construction materials and methods. I wanted a naturally well-lit, low maintenance, energy efficient, green built, universal-design home to meet the specific challenges of our central Texas climate and of my own aging in place. So many decisions! I must have been crazy -- yes, a lunatic -- to take this on. Now that it’s complete, I suppose you could call me a very satisfied “Solluna-tic” because I couldn’t be happier.
The “Someday Home” that my husband and I spent years planning is now my “Forever Home.” Over the years, we attended green building workshops and home shows. We went on the Cool House tours. Sadly, Alan didn’t live to see Forever Home, but I know he would be as happy as I am and pleased with my choice of Solluna Builders.
At the 2014 Cool House Tour, one home stood out. It was affectionately named Blissful Oaks. Although it’s much larger than I needed, the open layout had the right feel for me. I never forgot that feeling. Fast forward to 2015. I was ready to leave my home of 40+ years. I bought 10 acres. When I began my builder search in 2016, Solluna Builders, who built Blissful Oaks, was on my short list together with another local builder. By mid-2016, online research, meetings, and phone calls with both builders solidified my gut feeling and made it easy for me to choose Solluna. I wanted a company that would allow me to be an active participant in a collaborative design-build process.
The process begins with meetings and getting to know key team members: Wayne Jeansonne, building guru; Mary Simon, manager of all things (including Wayne); Debra Blessman, designer extraordinaire; and Aaron Snider, project manager/craftsman cabinetmaker. From late 2016 to early 2017, there was much back and forth tweaking to right-size the plans. Finally, Debra perfected the construction set so Wayne and Mary could finalize sub-contractor quotes and develop the contract bottom line.
Construction! Because I’m retired and was living in a cottage on the property, I was able to witness every construction facet of Forever Home and to welcome the various crews as they plied their trades. Wayne dubbed me his honorary on-site project manager. “Manager” is a misnomer. I was actually a reporter of daily activities and arising issues. This meant that Wayne and Aaron could follow progress and address my concerns in real time with sub-contractors via their established chain of command.
Tip: Trade contractors -- particularly electrical and plumbing -- are valuable sources of future proofing knowledge. Ask questions about future maintenance, expected repairs, and planning. You might decide to add features now that weren’t in the original budget. Collaborate! Don’t hesitate to discuss what you learn with your builder. Little tweaks now might save you a bundle of time, effort, and money in the future!
Issues will surely arise when one-of-a-kind construction is underway. Whether it’s weather or some unanticipated problem, there’s always a remedy. The best remedies are determined during team discussion, often including sub-contractors, where you examine pros and cons of each idea. Remedies sometimes involve change orders. I took heed of conventional wisdom to set aside funding for change order funding. Despite some anticipated change order cost decreases, my net bottom line did increase because of tweaks I decided to add. Mary did a stellar job of keeping me informed. Despite the extra cost in today’s dollars, it was well worth the increase in long-term value.
I love my 5-Star Forever Home.It is my “green” come true.
"He was a font of information."
by the Schmidt sisters, owners of Blissful Oaks
My sister and I live in a beautiful home we call Blissful Oaks. We knew that we wanted to build a “green” house. We did lots of research and felt we were ready to proceed. We started calling some of the green builders. The first builder we called did not take time to chat but quickly made an appointment. Solluna Builders were the second call. Wayne took the time to ask questions about what we wanted. He was a font of information. We never regretted our decision to work with Solluna Builders. They understood the challenges of building on land that was managed by a nature conservancy. It was a completely collaborative process, spending months to plan this house that was so important to us. The actual building process went virtually without a hitch. Ground was broken in early October. A short six months later, we moved into our dream house. We have no reservations in recommending Solluna Builders whether you want to renovate an existing house or build from the ground up.
"Where to begin?"
by Mev Jenson, colorful condo renovation
If you want a building or remodeling project supervised by a Graduate Master Builder, Solluna Builders is the contractor to choose. Owners Wayne Jeansonne and Mary Simon are experts in all aspects of “green” building and have the credentials and portfolio to get the job done right. When I purchased my tired-looking condo in Central Austin, it needed a complete overhaul. Where to begin? They patiently and efficiently walked me through the project from the initial design concepts to completion. The results are stunning and functional. They bring their expertise and experience, coupled with a respectful approach, to every job. They listen to the client and are available when decisions need to be made or questions answered. I highly recommend Solluna Builders. My remodeling experience was very positive. I enjoyed it so much I’d do it all over again!
"Solluna Builders really knows the ins and outs of green building."
rosedale craftsman homeowner
They built the energy-efficient home of my dreams! The Solluna team helped me navigate the myriad decisions that are involved in choosing flooring, trim, appliances, plumbing fixtures, tile, countertops, paint color, etc., etc. Solluna Builders were great to work with and I highly recommend them for your custom home building or remodeling project!
"It was the best decision we ever made."
by Karen Cripe, round rock star homeowner
August 30, 2010
Dan and I began our obsession with green building three years ago. We spent a great deal of time researching green techniques and looking for a lot that would be suitable for our dream home.
Early in the process we contacted Wayne. We talked to several “green” builders but had not made any final decision. Wayne was incredibly helpful and enthusiastic from the first day that we spoke with him. He answered many questions and encouraged us in our efforts. He also suggested that we not purchase a lot until he saw it. We took his advice and selected him as our builder. It was the best decision we ever made.
He helped us find a designer that was perfect for us. Debra Blessman is a gifted designer who listens well and can translate ambiguous wishes into concrete plans. Together we created a wonderful, workable house plan.
The construction began and I have never had more fun in my life. Every one that worked on our house was motivated and a true craftsman. Each person involved with the process seemed to have a way of improving our house. We felt like they were as interested in making it a dream home as we were. We ended up with a better house than even we had imagined, yet we came in on budget. Plus, the house was completed, start to finish, in five months.
I can't say enough about all of the subs! Some days it was like watching some intricate ballet. I was on site almost every day and was constantly asking questions. Everyone was patient with me and eager to talk about the job they were doing. It was wonderful and I learned so much!
I also must mention Mary and Adam. Mary kept a closer eye on costs than I did and kept us on budget. Adam did some fantastic trim work, wiring, and many other jobs while managing the project. He and Wayne kept me informed about the progress every step of the way. I always knew where we stood and what would happen next.
I truly believe that Solluna Builders is far superior to most builders out there today. They are well versed in green practices and what they don't know they learn. It was a wonderful experience. I hope to never move out of my dream home, but if I have to, I will call on Solluna. Thanks everyone!
"I truly have the most beautiful house in my neighborhood."
by Constance Scharff, Ph.D., north austin renovation homeowner
In 2009, I purchased a home in NW Austin that required a little bit of “TLC” before I could move in. I had trepidations about hiring a contractor. I had no one to recommend a contractor in the Austin area and was still living in Southern California. I knew that I would be out of state for the majority of the remodel, and needed to find someone I could trust to do the project right, without constant supervision.
I interviewed several contractors and settled on someone other than Solluna. However, it became clear quickly the contractor on whom I'd settled was looking to take me for a ride. It was one of those situations where he couldn't manage to get all the expected costs down on one page. The architect drawing up the plans never listened to what I wanted and sent invoices charging for an architect's time when I knew full well that the substandard work being produced was coming from an intern. The red flags were everywhere. Before the contractor was officially hired, I contacted Solluna again and spoke to Wayne.
Remodeling a home isn't exactly my cup of tea. Remodeling a home two time zones away from where you're living can only be described as a stressor and a pain. However, Wayne made the process as easy as possible. When I came to Austin to discuss the project with him, he brought out an architect who was able to complete the plans overnight for a nominal fee. Wayne explained every part of the process to me, and put his entire budget down so that it was clear and understandable. He was forthright about his profit margin, letting me know exactly where he was being paid for his services. I especially appreciated this, as I didn't feel I was falling prey to hidden mark ups. Once we signed a contract for the first phase of the remodel, work started almost immediately. Though unforeseen problems (rain, for example), pushed the timeline of the project, Wayne always stayed on budget. Wayne was in constant contact with me during the project. He took photos at every stage and put them online, so that I could see exactly how the job was progressing. Since I was in Southern California three weeks a month, we had an agreement; “No photos, no money.” Wayne's photographic documentation allowed me to see exactly what I was paying for when a check came due.
The process wasn't always easy. I became overwhelmed with the details that needed to be worked through. I hired an interior designer to work with Wayne. They developed a wonderful partnership. Both of them had a great sense about when to come to me for a decision and when to leave me be. If I wanted to understand something, Wayne (or his subcontractors) would take whatever time was necessary to explain it to me. I'm the kind of person who wants to know her options, and Wayne made sure that I was able to make an informed decision on each part of the project.
I think what was most important to me was that when mistakes were made, they were fixed immediately. As problems arose, they were dealt with. Very often, Wayne was able to work the cost of some unforeseen problems into the existing budget. He always looks for ways to save the client money while maintaining quality standards. He listened to my desire for green improvements, and made suggestions that have helped to lower my energy costs and improve my quality of life. Wayne also completed little extras, making repairs and upgrades to personal items, at my request. If a problem arose with a workman, Wayne protected his relationship with me, the client, and sent the sub packing. Once I moved into the house, he and his men were gracious and cognizant of my desire for privacy. They were also very respectful of my pets. Solluna's handymen in particular are outstanding and courteous young men. This kind of service earned Solluna another contract with me to do a “phase 2″ part of the project.
I'll be honest. There was a point when we were about eighty percent through with the project that I was emotionally done with it, and I'm certain that Wayne was ready to be done with me. I just wanted the remodel to be finished and wasn't interested in hearing another word about how the dampness and cold were slowing progress by extending drying times and work schedules. I was emotionally drained and prepared to be completely unreasonable. Although at that point I was not an easy woman to work for or with, Wayne kept his cool and continued to provide quality service through the completion of the project. Wayne has never wavered in his commitment to quality.
Now that the project is over, I am still in contact with Wayne. Unlike many other contractors, Wayne guarantees his work and means it. When the HVAC unit wasn't fully functional, he found someone who could come out immediately and repair it. I've had no other major issues — but when a fan needed balancing or the front door started to swell in the damp or I noticed an area that should have been painted and wasn't, Wayne immediately set out to make it right. He's never balked at completing small handyman requests for me. When Wayne was out recently checking on something, I asked him to hang a wind chime because I wanted it in a place that was too high for me to reach, even with a ladder. There was no bill or lip — just a smile and a task completed. What I have learned about Solluna Builders is that their priority is making sure the customer is satisfied.
I've made my home a palace. I've put more into it than I could recoup if I had to sell it today, but I didn't do the remodel to flip the house. I remodeled the house so that it would have the “Wow” factor when guests come in, a place that is both beautiful and welcoming. I remodeled the house so that I would feel happy standing in my kitchen or comfortable lying in bed looking out the windows into the garden. I asked Wayne to take a structure that had not been well cared for and make it into a home. I truly have the most beautiful house in my neighborhood, and I owe that in large part to Solluna Builders.
Constance Scharff, Ph.D.
"Solluna Builders makes it their priority that the customer is satisfied."
by Rachael Paterson
To potential Solluna Builders customers:
My husband and I bought a great house in the Zilker neighborhood in 2007 – perfect except that it had no garage. We procrastinated for over a year about starting the garage project mainly because of the fears we had over choosing a contractor. As homeowners, we were inundated with horror stories of people hiring general contractors to build a variety of things for their homes only to be left with incomplete shoddy work and a contractor who had taken off with all their allocated money. We didn't know anyone who had done major home construction/renovation and had no recommendations.
We did know that building the garage as green as possible was important to us, so with a little research online, we stumbled upon Solluna Builders. Wayne was very prompt in returning our call and we met with him shortly after. Our first impression of Wayne is really all it took for us to know we wanted to work with him. He came over to our house and was very warm and easy to talk to and we trusted him immediately. He was very forthcoming in telling us that his bid wouldn't be the lowest we could get, but that we would be getting the highest quality, green builder in Austin . Now we're not crazy – we did get bids from other people – but we just didn't get the same trustworthy feeling from other contractors as we did with Wayne , and thus our decision was made.
I can't say enough about the quality of the workmanship that went into our garage, fence and driveway. Not only does Wayne have acute attention to detail, but so does everyone of his subcontracts. In addition, the subcontractors were all very courteous and respectful of the rest of our property. Did I mention how quick they are too? With the exception of some very minor details (and delays due to the city inspection boys), our garage and driveway were completed in 9 weeks – a project I surely thought was a 4-5 month engagement.
My husband and I are very very pleased with the outcome of the garage and have already recommended Wayne to several of our friends looking into renovation work on their homes. There are other projects that we will some day do in our home, and without question, we will call Solluna Builders back and have them do the work.
Thanks Wayne !
Roy and Rachael Paterson
"I'm Solluna Builders’ biggest fan."
by Cynthia Brown, homeowner
March 13, 2008
Dear Wayne and all the staff at Solluna Builders,
Now that the final inspections have been completed and my moving-in process has started, I’d like to give all of you a very big thank-you for all the hard work that you’ve done on my 5-Star Austin Energy Green Building rated home. These past six months have been quite a journey, and I’m very honored to have shared it with you.
Even before I had chosen a builder for my project, I had many concerns formulating in my mind; concerns which include learning what a green home would be, being able to afford a green home on my modest salary, and being able to find a custom home builder that I could work with who could meet my homebuilding needs.
As I started to learn what makes a home green, Solluna Builders was there from the beginning, offering points of reference and answering what seemed like endless questions related to the green building process. When I was examining my potential building budget, Solluna builders offered options and worked with me to help me afford a very energy efficient home. And after considering who to choose as my final builder, Solluna Builders met me on my terms to create a smooth working partnership.
Once my project was formalized and started to become a work in progress, my site manager Nathan Dierenger worked with great enthusiasm and diligence to keep the construction site moving on schedule. My architect Joe Putman has been a quiet steady, dependable presence. And Steve,"the cabinet guy", contributed not only a smart, practical kitchen design, but a great sense of humor as well. Mary and Kristi, thanks for keeping the guys in line.
To anyone who is considering building a green home, do your homework first. Then I would definitely recommend that they contact Wayne and all the staff connected to Solluna Builders. Building a home is not a one-way event, and throughout these past few months I have felt that this experience has been a very positive working partnership. Your honesty when dealing with what could have been potential problems and how you followed thru with it, spoke volumes to me as to the high level of integrity that you brought to the partnership.
Thinking back on how this journey has evolved, if asked if I would do it again, my response would be a resounding YES!- -but only if Solluna Builders were my partners in the process all over again. I know that there are many different home builder out there, but you have helped me create something more valuable–a home that will reflect my personality, help me nurture my friendships, and provide a safe environment to expand my creative endeavors as a craft person.
Please note that although the construction has finished, you will always have an open door to the home that you helped me build. Thank you again for all your hard work and positive energy. I LOVE MY HOUSE!
Solluna Builders’ biggest fan,
"How does one find a good builder?"
by Mike Hagye and Joyce Davis, homeowners
To Whom It May Concern:
We wanted to put into writing our immense satisfaction with Solluna Builders and everyone associated with them.
Before we set out building, Mike had read a USA Today article from April 13, 1999, which discussed the numerous risks and problems associated with home renovation. The remodeling industry, even more than the standard home builder profession, has more unreliable scam artists and shoddy hucksters. Moreover, the greatest complaint was the horrible situation of overcharges or “new” charges (or more appropriately, jacking up the profit) due to builder incompetence or dishonesty (usually both). Stories of half-finished projects, shoddy work, contractors placing liens on properties, etc. were numerous. And “low-balling” preliminary estimates to snag an owner’s contract, then start mounting up charges and costs, is a common occurrence. Armed with that bit of “good news”, we approached remodeling with little enthusiasm.
We had built our original house with a custom builder, and were fortunate to have a good one. But that industry has been more regulated in comparison to remodelers. How does one find a good builder in this jungle of risk and potential monetary loss?
We found Wayne and his crew at Solluna Builders on the Internet. We didn’t know anything about them, but were pleasantly impressed by Wayne’ s good nature and up front, straightforward way of describing our potential profit. In time, we were able to hammer out a rough project outline. This is when we got to meet other members of his company. We were constantly impressed with every Solluna employee, no exceptions; none.
Eventually, after the usual bank/financing trials and tribulations, we were ready to talk money. And this was the best part. We could not believe that Wayne was giving us estimates that he virtually assured us, barring any unforeseen catastrophe, would be the final project price! Wayne even went beyond most builders to break down by detail the cost of each phase, down to the specific task! This was very unusual and actually began to make us enthusiastic about this project!
To sum up the ensuing three months, we cannot be more emphatic that Solluna Builders is absolutely the best housing company of any kind we have experienced. They always explained to us what was being done, why, and how long. And still the costs remained faithful to the estimate. Any miscommunication or mistake in construction was immediately cleared up. As we now sit in our new addition, looking at the quality of work, we cannot believe such a company exists in today’s gimme-the-money-and-shut-up world! We also have to hand out a special commendation to Solluna’s work crew. These guys are all very nice, personable, and responsible. Mike especially enjoyed getting to know and kid around with them. They weren’t just emotionless faces, but people who cared about satisfying the owners at every turn. We were also impressed with their range of skills -painting, framing, excavation, drywall- they do it all! This was an unexpected bonus. And, as I said: the final costs are true to the estimates!
It is our belief that, since Solluna performed so exceptionally well for us in the far riskier world of remodeling, they also do a stellar job in the more regulated new home building area. Whether new home, new addition, or remodeling, we cannot strongly and sincerely enough recommend the good and quality people who work for Solluna Builders. Feel free to take a look at our addition from start to finish, in pictures, at our Web site – Wayne can give it to you.
Wayne and crew, best of luck on future projects!
Mike Hagye and Joyce Davis
Completely Satisfied Owners