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Keith Kelsch: “Better quality of life and more affordable housing”

I do not build unless it can last at least a hundred years with little maintenance and greater durability. For example, my roofs come with a one-hundred year manufacturer’s warranty that is transferable. As for durability, every time a hurricane or tornado rips through a community, I cringe. None of this needs to happen. We […]

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I do not build unless it can last at least a hundred years with little maintenance and greater durability. For example, my roofs come with a one-hundred year manufacturer’s warranty that is transferable. As for durability, every time a hurricane or tornado rips through a community, I cringe. None of this needs to happen. We can build roofs and homes that can withstand 165 MPH sustained winds during hurricanes and even tornados. We can build to withstand just about anything that nature has to dish out. If flooding is an issue, we can literally building homes that can withstand at least a two-foot flood with almost no damage.


As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Keith Kelsch.

Keith is a second generation builder in southwest Utah. He specializes in new technology construction for better utility savings and lasting quality.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I graduated from Humboldt State University in 1993 with the idea of being a college English teacher. I ended up in college admissions and worked in construction on the side. Then 911 moved my cheese and I found myself working for a non-profit housing organization. I managed a thriving sweat-equity program and built 63 homes in three years all under budget. Then the housing crash of 2008 came and I found myself working in the produce section of a local grocery store. After six months of that I needed to do something, and I did. I went out on my own.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I lived next to a retired college professor who befriended me. He gave me a job to turn the attic of his pioneer adobe home into living space with a bathroom. He saw how I took my 1000 square foot 1919 adobe home with 2 beds and 1 bath and turned it into 1,700 square feet with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, all without changing the footprint of the home. After the job I did for him, I took the state Contractor’s exam, secured my liability and other requirements to be fully legal and I launched my construction company.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

Construction is a business that can bury you quickly. I did not see success for several years because I refused to tell clients what they wanted to hear. While many builders bait clients with low bids that are unrealistic, I buried hidden equity in the homes I built, so that if costs increased during construction, I could at least reveal what I had hidden when the time came. For example, on my first home for a family with seven boys, the budget came in at 305,000 dollars to build. As we began to dig, we found the neighbor’s septic system underneath. This caused price increases that the bank would not approve without showing more equity to cover the added costs, and so I quickly called the truss plant to change the trusses over the garage to attic trusses and thereby created an additional 600 square feet of livable space for very little cost. This gave my clients 16,000 dollars of added equity, just what they needed. Since then, I have learned to have something up my sleeve to suddenly make a build more valuable on a moment’s notice. This is better than baiting clients with a low bid, something I refused to do.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My grandfather was a builder on the weekends. I helped him install asphalt shingles on a new addition that he built. Twenty five years later I installed a new aluminum shingle roof over his weathered shingles. That roof has been on for over ten years now and it will keep his building covered for one hundred years. As I witnessed his mistakes in construction I began a quest to build with better materials and with lasting quality. I obviously started with the roof. I have never used asphalt shingles since.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

This may sound self-serving, but I could not find a podcast or a youtuber or even a book in construction that has helped me. I have never been interested in DIY projects. I more interested in the process and how to manage construction. So, in 2019 I decided to launch HowToBuildYourOwnHome.com. It was a personal stab in the dark to see if anything stuck. And something stuck. While building a luxury home in Park City for a client, a young women found me on Facebook. She asked if she could meet to discuss her desire to be an owner builder and save a lot of money by managing her own build. We met and I agreed to help her for a modest 800 dollars. I gave her everything I had and always responded to her text requests and emails. Six months later she started her own build in Oregon and today they are living in that house. As the months progressed I kept making posts and now dozens of students around the country are being helped by my owner builder program. By combining twenty-five years of teaching with twenty-five years in construction, I became the YouTuber I could not find for myself. Thank you Nicole for letting me help you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

They say “Those who cannot do, teach.” But my wife says “I can do and teach.” I now listen to my wife.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.

The first thing anyone needs to understanding is that the real cost of a home is in the square footage of the exterior walls and not the square footage of the living space inside. Even the most experienced builders don’t realize this. Think about it. Any section of an exterior wall takes at least ten different sub-contractors to build. The excavator, concrete foundation crew, the framing contractor, windows and door contractor, the insulation sub-contractor, the exterior stucco/siding/mason or other sub-contractor, and then the drywall sub-contractor and finally the painter. This totals ten sub-contractors and even more layers of work added at separate times to build the exterior wall of a home. The square footage of the floor of a home is four: excavator, concrete, framing and flooring installer. The roof is five; framer, roofer, insulation, drywall and paint.

The biggest trend is knowing where the real cost to build is. And when you compare all four sides of the envelope of a home, the most costly is the square footage of the exterior walls and not in the square footage of the floor space inside. This shift in real cost allocation is changing not only the way we design but how we build. For example, if one sub-contractor or one technology can do the work that two or three sub-contractors can and in less time, we can lower costs and get a better product. Look for the exterior wall construction to change the most in the years ahead.

Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?

I do not build unless it can last at least a hundred years with little maintenance and greater durability. For example, my roofs come with a one-hundred year manufacturer’s warranty that is transferable. As for durability, every time a hurricane or tornado rips through a community, I cringe. None of this needs to happen. We can build roofs and homes that can withstand 165 MPH sustained winds during hurricanes and even tornados. We can build to withstand just about anything that nature has to dish out. If flooding is an issue, we can literally building homes that can withstand at least a two-foot flood with almost no damage.

There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?

Smart homes means advanced technologies in security, utility usage, and automation. Right now there is, like you said, a lot of talk about the benefits. I have seen home costs increase substantially, though, due to upgrades in technology. I am not sure if this is good. For example, I had a client who wanted to control shades from his iPad and the added cost to a 1,700 square foot addition was over 16,000 dollars. This will be hard for appraisers to see if the home is valued for resale. Does this upgrade really carry over in the market? Meaning, does a smart home really help with the comparable market analysis and increase valuation? Are we really showing greater equity with smart homes? I am waiting to see this happen and I think this is where most of the talk is.

Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today? I see interesting technology but very slow adoption. This is a widespread problem with construction. Builders are very slow to change. I use better roofing technology that has been around for 80 years and yet builders still install the cheapest material they can find. Until we can change home designations we are not going to see better adoption. For example, some cars resell better than others. Homes need to be seen the same way. I do not think Energy Star or other rating programs have helped with this. We need a better approach to incentivize better technology adoption to carry over into increasing real estate valuation, like we see with a few car manufactures.

Can you talk about innovations that are being made to make homes more pet friendly?

Buyers and builders are moving away from carpet and installing more luxury vinyl flooring. The technology in luxury vinyl has come a long way. It is thicker, more durable, quieter, and more attractive than ever. Plus luxury vinyl is great for pets. I have two dogs and cleaning up luxury vinyl is super easy. Also homes are including pet areas for the kennel, their own shower and grooming station near the garage or laundry rooms.

How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?

The complete envelop of the home is changing drastically with adoption found most where the manufacturing of new technology is taking place. Omni-block in Nevada is spreading throughout the southwest providing home builders with a super savings in energy costs. Tstudds is a manufacturer of an insulated stud wall system that is stronger and pre-insulated. They are trying to move across the country. Right now they are mostly in Minnesota. Steller Innovations is a ground breaking new flooring technology that is a solid wood floor that can be repaired and replaced easily. The big challenge is distribution and getting supply houses and lumber yards to carry new construction materials. One new technology is getting widespread usage. It’s called the Zip System, a complete weather barrier sheeting system that literally keeps all moisture out from foundation to framing structure.

For someone looking to invest in the real estate industry, are there exciting growth opportunities that you think people should look at more carefully?

Do not buy existing builds that are over ten years old. The technology is so much different and changing fast. Even in the past five years so much has changed and more and more builders are starting to adopt better materials, better installation practices, and better technology. The more informed you are of advanced technology construction, the better off you will be in protecting any real estate you want to buy or build.

Let’s talk a bit about housing availability and affordable housing. Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

We are facing a massive migration taking place in the United States right now. Thousands are leaving the big cities every day for more rural living. The intermountain west (Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and all the way down to Texas are growing by leaps and bounds.) It’s like a rip tide. After all the westward expansion that could take place was done, the wave is returning back inland. We see the same thing on the east coast. Five things are causing this:

  1. Better quality of life and more affordable housing.
  2. Better jobs with newer companies and less political jockeying up the ladder
  3. More middle class opportunity, meaning it is easier to start a business in these areas.
  4. Less billionaire elitism and less poverty, and yes these go together more than we think. Just look at the big cities with all their wealth and poverty mixed together.
  5. Big cities refuse to adopt vision that does not fit within regulated control. They refuse to allow greater democratic involvement with real solutions from people inside the community. The constant need for central control is a serious problem in big cities.

Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?

Yes, but builders are not the solution. The real solution is a new vision in local business networking. The more widespread the involvement and participation, the faster we can make a change and fix the problem of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. I have drafted a master vision at my podcast site at genuineoptimist.com. Click on the button that says “Download a New Vision in Housing.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have a book coming in late 2021 called The High Road: The Secret to American Greatness. We have forgotten what makes people great because working together has been fractured by those with curved intentions and political agenda’s outside our communities and outside our cultures. What we can do within our communities is wonderful and full of hope, vision, and belonging. My vision is to help people see ways to organize that protect the three unique qualities of each person, namely their vote, their voice and their value. The first is your agency and free will. The second is your intelligence and ideas. The third is your time, talents and creation. Great things are not what we do as individuals. Great things are what we do together.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow me at HowToBuildYourOwnHome.com or at GenuineOptimist.com. They can also see me at my day job at kelschconstruction.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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