Building a Home
Welcome to Charlottesville, Virginia
So, you are thinking of building a home. But where do you start? It is certainly an overwhelming process, but one that can be managed by simply understanding what to expect. By educating yourself upfront, you will know what questions to ask and will be more satisfied with your completed home. You want to minimize how many times you think “I wish I knew that” or “If I had known, I would have…”
My goal is to help educate people who are new to home building so they can begin the process with confidence. It is a process I believe should be enjoyable, so I will do my best to make this blog informative and entertaining. And whenever it will be helpful and is possible, a video or photograph post will be included.
We are going to start with selecting our lot to build, then walking you through the process of deciding a builder, followed by explaining the selections you will be expected to make for your home, and will be giving you tips throughout to help you get the most out of your investment.
Avenue Realty Selling Tips
Before you can build a home, you will need a piece of land. Usually land will fall into one of two categories – a piece of land that is for sale independent of a builder or development or a homesite within a development with a predetermined builder or selection of builders.
If you find the perfect piece of land to build on, please understand that it doesn’t mean it is buildable. If you will need a septic system, ask the land owner if there has been a percolation (perc) test done. If so, what were the results? A perc test will tell you if a septic system can be installed, where it can be installed (on 4 acres of land, you may not want your home setback on 25 feet from the road, so finding out where is important), and how many bedrooms it can support (If you are a family of ten, you will want to know that it can only support a family of two. This is why perc test results are given in the form of bedrooms (assuming 2 people per bedroom instead of bathrooms). If a perc test has not been completed, make your offer contingent on a successful perc test.
If the land you are looking at is within a development you will want to ask what options you have for builders. Next, you will want to make sure you understand what the final plans are for the entire development. Right now the homesite may look private with mature trees behind it, but will it stay that way or is the developer planning to remove those trees and build another set of homes in what you think is a nice tranquil backyard? How close will the homes be to each other? Are there any amenities within the development and if so, where will they be located? When do they expect the community to be complete? In a development where you are one of the first to build, these questions will be important. You want to make sure you aren’t surprised by the progression of the community after you are living in the home you have built.
The condition of the land will impact the time and expense of building a home. An peice of land with a successful perc test (when needed) will be easier to build on if the land is flat and clear. Land that requires leveling, retaining walls, and tree clearing will add to the expense and time of the build. Most developers have either lot fees or have built in the price to prepare the land in their home prices.
Our building project is the final home of an already developed neighborhood. We know that the homes in this neighborhood are on public water and sewer so a perc test is not needed. We know nothing more can be built in the woods behind the homesite because of a conservation easement. We are well aware of the setback requirements and proximity to neighbors. We know that the homes in this neighborhood are on public water and sewer so a perc test is not needed. We also know we will need to put some work into making the site buildable. We are very excited to see the transformation.
There are no pre-determined builders for this homesite, so we are free to interview builders and decide who would be best for this project. In the next segment of our blog, we will talk about what questions you should be asking builders and what makes one builder better than another. Stay tuned!
When hiring a builder think about how involved you want to be in the process. Typically a person who is building a home will fall into one of three categories:
- Not too interested in design choices, but would like a nicely built home. – Many of the larger builders offer limited selections and don’t allow for changes. This is a good choice for a person who isn’t interested in the details.
- Desires a completely custom home. – The very high end custom builders say “yes” to almost all requests and their clients pay a premium for this flexibility.
- Interested in being involved in the process and would like flexibility in the building and finishings. – Many small and medium sized builders have a selection of floor plans and options, but allow for changes to those plans and flexibility on the finishings and details of the home. This home building series can benefit all three categories of people but is most inline with the the person who is wanting to be involved and make choices, but doesn’t have an endless bank account.
Once you have thought about how involved you want to be in building, select three potential builders and set up a consultation. You will have at least a 3 to 6 month relationship with the person building your home, so it is important to hire someone you trust, like, and can work with for awhile. Below are some questions we recommend you ask a builder to determine who to hire.
- Can I provide my own floor plan or am I required to use one of yours?
Most builders will be able to offer floor plans for you to look through, but you will find many more online. Some builders will allow you to bring a floor plan to them for pricing. Other builders only build the floor plans they are familiar with and have offered you.
- Are their different option/upgrade packages or can I pick and choose what I want?
If you want some flexibility in the choices you are making about the finishings in your home, you will want to know if there is just a standard, middle, and high option or if you can pick and choose throughout the process. What if you want the standard level faucets but high-end cabinets? Is that allowed? What if you found your own faucets, could you purchase them and have the builder install them?
- Am I given selection allowances? If so, what are they and am I limited to certain suppliers?
Builders know how much everything is going to cost them to build your home. They know they will spend $1,800 on lighting if you pick the standard lighting package. So when you choose the high end lighting package they add $1,500 to your home price. Other builders may say you have an allowance of $1,800 for lighting and anything over that you pay yourself. So you may not choose the standard, middle, or high option. Rather you may take the $1,800 allowance and order fixtures from overstock or the local lighting store. Make sure to ask the builder if he will install all lighting even if you purchase it yourself.
- Can changes be made to the design of the home throughout the process?
You may have really wanted a full bath on the main level, but now that the building has started you realize you would rather a smaller bathroom and large coat closet. Will they make this change?
- Is there a charge for change orders?
Typically if you are willing to pay, someone will be willing to accommodate. Ask what their process is for change orders and if there is a fee associated with them.
- Do you do an air seal test?
After the home is built an air seal test will tell the builder if there are any leaks. Typically these will be found at windows and doors and can be corrected, helping to keep your home more energy efficient.
- What type of insulation is used and what areas of the home are insulated? Specifically what is the thermal performance or R-value of the insulation?
Foam’ R-Value is twice that of the traditional batting. Don’t forget about extra insulation in attic and basement.
- What HVAC options are there? 1 zone vs. multi-zone
There is a cost upfront for multi-zone HVAC, but on a larger home the temperature of the home will be much more comfortable and energy bills will be lower. Many builders will base the need for multi-zone HVAC on finished square footage, so make sure you aren’t missing out on a second system of a couple square feet.
- Are energy efficient appliances included in construction costs or is that considered an “upgrade”?
Most builders install energy efficient appliances, but that doesn’t mean they are good appliances. Do your research on the appliances they plan to install and ask if you can provide your own if you are not happy with your choices.
- Are energy efficient windows included in construction costs or is that considered an “upgrade”?
Even if the windows are energy efficient you may want to dig a little deeper if this is really important to you. Not all energy efficient windows are created equal. You will want to have general understanding of the cost of the windows you want for your home. You can do your own research before even speaking with the builder to get an idea of how expensive extremely energy efficient windows are.
- What type of ventilation system do you install?
Now that homes are built so tightly, outside air doesn’t get inside the home. Many builders solve this problem by installing a duct that runs from your furnace to outside your home. This means there is a constant stream of air running into your house. This allows for fresh air in your home, but the air is most likely the opposite temperature of what you are trying to achieve in your home – you heat the air in your home when the air outside is cold, and cool the air when the air outside is hot. A better way is to add a simple electronic damper. This damper is installed in the duct and will open and close at set intervals. The fresh air still comes in to your home, but instead of a steady stream it is controlled. This is a more energy efficient approach because you are not allowing a steady stream of opposite temperature air in your home.
- Do you secure drywall with nails or glue and then screw the drywall?
Nails result in “nail pops” when the house begins to settle. Gluing and screwing makes for fewer wall blemishes.
- Do you space your support beams 16 inches on center or 24 inches on center?
Code will require outdoor walls to be 16 inches on center, but on interior walls 24 inches on center are permitted. Some builders will do 16 inch on center on exterior and interior walls which makes for a stronger better insulated wall.
- Do you build with 2×4’s or 2×6’s?
2×4’s is an effective way to build a home and certainly meets code, but some builders use 2×6’s which adds support and 2 more inches of insulation to your home. If you can’t decide between two builders, this could be a tie breaker.
- Do you wrap the home?
Most builders use a housewrap and there isn’t a huge difference in the types available. A house wrap will protect the wood frame of your home from the elements during construction and also serves as a layer of insulation. Without it, your wood framing may suffer from warping and/or mildew.
- How will you protect the home’s foundation from water?
The first method is grading properly. This should be done when the foundation is poured and again when the home is near the end of construction. The best way to protect your home is to grade the land around your home so water moves away from the home.
There is also a tar like substance that can be put on the ground where the foundation will be. This serves as a barrier between the earth and the foundation floor and in areas with a lot of water, a foam barrier may be applied to the tar like substance. The foundation walls will also be protected. You will want to know if the substance you builder uses is damp proof or waterproof. Both are acceptable, but depending on your home site waterproofing instead of damp proofing may be desired.
- Will you warranty your work?
Many builders will warranty their work for a year. Some even come at the one year mark and create a punch list of repair items. You will want to ask what their policy and process is and what you should do if issues arise.
Now that you have your lot and a builder, it is time to sign and contract and start building! In our next blog we will talk about the steps taken to prepare the land for the home’s foundation.
Some homesites will requires days or weeks of site prep. This post is designed to help you think through the potential tasks needed to prepare your land – tree clearing, fill dirt, retaining wall, and drainage.
1. CLEARING TREES AND PREPARING YOUR HOMESITE
Many homesites will require some tree clearing. Sometimes the builder will do this prior to listing the lot for sale, others will leave the site untouched allowing you to decide with your builder which trees stay and which trees go. You will want a professional to evaluate the trees on the property and determine which ones are healthy and if any are not. You will also want to speak with the excavator and your builder about preserving the trees you would like to keep. Sometimes the heavy equipment the excavator uses can damage the root systems so make sure there is a plan to avoid the root systems of the trees that will remain.
Some homesites will also require more dirt to be brought to the site. This is often done when the home is being built on a lot that is not already flat. The extra dirt can help create a flat area or a less steep hill to build on. Talk to your builder about this and where the dirt is coming from. Many times there are nearby construction sites with excess dirt. If there is free dirt nearby, you could save yourself some money.
If it is determined that extra dirt will be needed, ask if a retaining wall is necessary to keep the dirt where you want it.. Depending on the grade of the land and the amount of dirt needed, a retaining wall may or may not be needed. There are retaining wall materials to consider as well. Ask about the longevity, cost, and functionality of wood, poured cement, and cement blocks. Think through the pros and cons of the options. Do you want to have to maintain the wall? Wood will require some maintenance. Are you concerned with the look of the wall? Many find cement block more visually appealing than poured cement.
2. DRAINAGE AWAY FROM YOUR HOME
To avoid water penetration, the land surrounding your home needs to be properly graded so water runs away from your home instead of towards it. This should be done when the foundation is poured and again when the home is near the end of construction.
3. DRAINAGE UNDER THE YARD
At this time you will also see large black tubes on your homesite, or at least you should. This is used to help with drainage. You don’t want your gutters to pour water onto your yard, so they will be attached to these tubes that run under your yard and dump water away from your home. Some builders take the water out just far enough to be a safe distance from your home. Ask if they will consider running the tubes to the end of your yard (assuming it isn’t 3 acres). Wherever the tube ends is where the water will be, so if possible run them to the woods or another area of your property that won’t be used much.
We have said from the beginning that we like a challenge. This particular piece of land presents challenges because of this steep drop, but it is a challenge that can be overcome with some engineering. It would have been easier to say this home would not have a backyard, but that wasn’t going to work for me.
We are building a 6 bedroom house on this lot, so I believe it is reasonable to conclude a family with 1 or more children will be the proud owners. Many of the kids I meet enjoy playing outside and many of the parents I represent look for a home with a yard. So not only did I want to figure out how to build a nice home, but I wanted it to have a nice backyard where memories could be made.
The lot was virtually un-walkable so it would need more than just bulldozing some dirt around. The solution we came up with along with our builder and engineers was to build a retaining wall. This 5 foot tall and nearly 90 foot long retaining wall created the backyard we wanted. Was it expensive? Heck yes. What is worth it? I sure hope so. It is shaping up to be a yard for soccer playing, swing set swinging, dogs fetching, parents relaxing, and s’more roasting.
Right now it just looks like some flattened out dirt, but a week ago nothing about this lot was flat. The wall looks amazing and I could be more impressed with the precision of each brick placement. And remember in our last post about site prep when we talked about black tubing should be running under your yard to move water away from your home? You can see our engineer clearly has a plan for proper drainage.
The average home sits on top of a 12 inch footer with metal rebar every 3 to 4 feet. If you have been following our blog, you know this is not your average home. After the lot was cleared and dirt was moved around, the engineer came out to re-assess. This was the plan all along – start clearing and moving dirt then re-assess our building plan. Even if you know a home can be built, but it is important to take a step back and make sure it is being done the best way.
The engineer was asked to provide a plan that was one step better than what was “necessary”. The agreed upon solution was to make the footers three to four times stronger than the average footer. So the cement footers poured for this home 3 feet wide. And instead of having metal rebar every 3 to 4 feet, we put rebar every 12 inches.
It is so important to take the extra time (and sometimes money) at this stage of building to make sure you are building a structurally sound home. It will be more time and money if you need to fix the footings or foundation after the home is complete.
We are super excited to get the home built and move-in ready, but there was no doubt in our mind that we should delay a week to get the engineers assessment. And as you can see from the pictures. This house isn’t going anywhere!
It may seem early in the process to start thinking about “selections”, but these decisions are often made before the framing is done to ensure all materials are delivered in a timely manner and the contractors have what they need when they are ready to start installing.
One of the first things you will be asked about is your windows. Believe it or not, there several decisions involving the windows in your home.
First, you will want to think about the energy efficiency. Not all double-pane windows are the same, so understand the product the builder plans to install. If you prefer something more energy efficient, now is the time to ask.
TOP DOWN, BOTTOM UP
A common upgrade is to install double-hung windows instead of single-hung. This means top window unit will also slide up and down. This makes it easier to clean and is a nice way to allow airflow into your home when you have little ones that may push of screens.
You will also want to consider the location of your windows. It might be wise to use privacy glass in some bathroom windows. There are many variations of privacy glass, so do your research and ask what your builder uses for privacy glass.
NATURAL LIGHT PLEASE!
Transum windows are often an upgrade, but if natural light is important to you, this is a great way to get more of it in your home. Transum windows are high and long windows found over doors, windows and sometimes in bathrooms to allow light while not imposing on privacy.
Ok, so you know what you expect from your window and how you want it to function. Is there anything else to consider? Absolutely. You have many options when it comes to grille patterns or window panes.
Your windows will speak to the architectural design of your home. Unless otherwise stated, most builders will assume six over six. This means there will be a window grille on the top and bottom window creating six small panes on each. This type of window is very common and traditional in style.
Common six over six window on a Colonial
Common four over one window on a Transitional/Craftsman
Here are some other options:
- Colonial/Tradition – six over six or six over one
- Farm House – one over one
- Cape Cod – six over six
- Craftsman – two over one or four over one
- Victorian – decorative glass accents
I love color. However, picking the right paint color always leaves me stumped. I am the queen of paint samples, samples, and more samples. I have quickly learned that the tiny little color swatch is very different than a 9 foot wall (multiplied by 4 walls). But repainting a powder room a few times isn’t the end of the world. Although my husband may disagree.
As we pick the house color, I am a bit nervous. Technically I could repaint it if the color is wrong, but that isn’t a very economical back-up plan. So, how do you pick a house color? You can stare at a 3 inch piece of siding for as long as you want, it is still impossible to imagine it on a home.
The internet is a lovely tool for these sorts of decisions. My advice is to look through homes online and make note of the types of colors you like. Often on home design sites and blogs the actual color is referenced which makes life a lot easier. Ask your builder what material is being used. If you are doing brick, it is a moot point. While we are on the topic of material. My favorite siding is HardiePlank. John Hardie has made a wonderful product that outlasts alternatives. It is more expensive than vinyl, but it is beautiful and easy to maintain. Stucco is also a popular choice in certain parts of the country. This opens up a world of color possibilities. I would suggest buying a gallon and painting before committing to a color for the entire home. We will be painting our sub wall, which is similar so we will revisit this in a couple of months.
Assuming you are going with vinyl or HardiePlank your builder should be able to point you to other homes they have built or neighborhoods where similar material has been used. Drive around and write down the addresses of the home colors you like. Then drive around and look at them again during a different time of day. The color at 5pm will look different than it did at 10am. Hopefully this should help you narrow it down. Don’t forget to consider the house colors around you. You will want to avoid picking the same color as your immediate neighbor.
In summary, here are the simple steps to picking the color of your home.
- Decide on a material – brick, vinyl, HardiePlank, stucco
- Search online. What colors are you drawn to?
- Make note of your neighbor’s house colors so you don’t pick the same color.
- Ask your builder if he knows of any homes in the area in the colors you like.
- Drive by the homes and make notes of your favorite.
- Drive by again during a different time of day.
- Make a decision.
We chose Sail Cloth HardiePlank for this home, by going through the steps above.
- Decided on HardiePlank
- From our online search we liked greens, yellows, and dark grey.
- Eliminated dark grey due to the color of a neighboring house.
- Drove around to see some yellow and green HardiePlank in the area.
- Found a soft yellow that we loved.
- Still looked pretty in the dusk light.
- Told our builder the address of the house we liked and we learned it is called Sail Cloth.
I looked up HardiePlank Sail Cloth online and was shocked. It looked cream online (not my idea of color), but on an entire home it looks like a soft yellow. So the take away lesson from this post: see the house color in person before deciding!
Wow, that was a huge decision. Now what color for the shutters?
While the builder has the framing crew at your home site, you will be spending your time making all your selections. But there are some important things to be thinking about during the framing process. If you haven’t already, ask about the width of the wood being used. 2×4’s are appropriate and used in most homes. But if you are worried about the cost to heat and cool your home, you may want to ask for your exterior walls to be framed with 2×6’s. It should not be too expensive for this upgrade and you will be gaining 2 inches of insulation (6 inches instead of 4 inches). And since we are on the topic of insulation, discuss to differences between spray foam and batting with your builder and ask what they intend to use to insulate your home. Foam’s R-Value, or thermal performance, is twice that of the traditional batting. Don’t forget about extra insulation in the attic, basement, and over the garage.
If possible, make frequent visits to the home site. I always like to double check that windows and doors are being put in the correct places and are the correct sizes. No matter how much you trust your builder, mistakes happen and it is much easier to fix if you catch them early.
Once the walls are up your home will be “wrapped”. This helps protect the wood from mildew, mold and warping while it is exposed to the elements. Later, this house wrap will serve as an extra layer of insulation.
Before the framed walls are sheet rocked, you will be asked about electrical needs. If you are not, you should ask your builder if you can walk through the home together and discuss where outlets, light switches and overhead lights will be located. If the electrician has not started to drill and wire, it should not be a problem to switch the placement of these items to suit your needs as long as your requests still meet code. When you walk through the home, see where your hand naturally goes to turn on a light. That is going to be the best place for it. Do you already know you will want a reading table and chair in the middle of a room and not up against a wall? If so, you may want to have an outlet installed in the floor for a lamp. Maybe you know you are going to offset your kitchen table and you would like the overhead light centered over the table rather than centered in the dining area. If possible, walk through with your builder and have your preferences recorded.
At this time you should also think through the insulation needs for interior walls. If you work from home, sound board or insulation in your office walls might be worth the added expense. It is much easier to install added insulation to reduce sound travel before the sheet rock is installed.
Now that your home is underway, it is time to pick out all the little (or not so little) details. We will walk you through flooring, tile, cabinets, lighting, and more.
While the walls and stairs are being built inside your home, it is time to start thinking about the finishing touches. The more custom your builder is, the more options you will have available to you. The three areas we will focus on are: Flooring, Cabinetry, Countertops
Solid hardwood flooring is typically three quarters of an inch thick and is nailed to the sub floor. The thickness and the installation allows for future sanding and refinishing. If the option of sanding and refinishing your floors in the future is appealing to you, solid hardwood flooring is the best option.
Solid hardwood flooring should only be installed above grade overtop of plywood, wood or OSB subfloors. You cannot install solid hardwoods overtop of cement subfloors which are often found below grade.
You will likely notices gaps between the wood planks in the winter months. The solid wood will contract in cooler air and expand in the warmer months.
Solid hardwood flooring will also be the most expensive hardwood option. If expanding and contracting boards is a concern, you are trying to keep costs down, or you are installing in a basement over cement there are other options that will give the same look and feel as solid hardwood.
Engineered hardwood flooring has become increasingly popular in the past few years. Hardwood flooring throughout the main level of a home has become the norm and engineered hardwoods offer a cost effective way of accomplishing that without too much compromise.
The look and feel of engineered hardwood is identical to solid hardwood (maybe an expert could tell the difference, but most can’t). This is accomplished by using a veneer hardwood overtop of a plywood backing. The flooring that you can see and touch is wood. However, it is only a thin strip of wood that is compressed on top of a less expensive plywood which keeps the prices lower than a solid hardwood.
An engineered hardwood cannot be sanded and refinished. Some of the higher quality engineered hardwoods claim you can sand and re-stain once.
In addition to being cost effective, engineered hardwood is appealing because it is not as affected by humidity and temperature as solid hardwood. There is less expanding and contracting with engineered hardwood.
Laminate flooring is a fraction of the price of both solid and engineered hardwood. This type of flooring is made to look like hardwood, but is not made of wood. It is created by a photographic layer made to mimic the hardwood of choice. This photographic layer sits on top of a High Density Fiber.
Laminate flooring tends to be thinner than solid or engineered hardwood and measures three eighths of an inch thick. These floors are installed without nailing the product to the subfloor and is often referred to as a “floating floor”. The tongue and groove system locks the flooring into place.
This cost effective option can work well if you desire a hardwood look on a cement subfloor. It is also easy to install for any DIY-er.
There are many door designs offered in cabinetry from a very simple shaker style to an ornate cabinet with many grooves and inset trims. Whatever your style, there are typically several wood options. Popular wood which is a soft wood, but has very few knots so it is ideal for painted cabinets. Maple wood has some wood grain and knots, but is a popular choice for those looking for a bit more durability with either a painted or stained cabinet. Cherry cabinet have the reputation for being the most durable and beautiful and are often stained rather than painted to show off the wood.
Regardless of the type of wood chosen, I encourage you to ask what parts of the cabinets are solid hardwood. Some cabinets have plywood boxes and door insets leaving just the trim around the door solid hardwood. If you knock on the cabinet door inset and boxes you can hear the difference.
Making selections can be very overwhelming and I personally find the countertops to be the most difficult item to select. You will likely find yourself wondering endless aisles of granite slabs trying to visualize what that slab will look like when it is cut down to size and placed horizontal overtop your cabinets. And its not just granite anymore, quartz, marble and quartzite are featured on design blogs everywhere.
Granite Granite has been the desired countertop material for the past decade or more. It is known as a high end product and homeowners have been programmed to value granite as an upgrade that everyone wants in their kitchens. However, the trend is moving away from granite. If you like to be ahead of the curve with design and want to install granite, I would steer away from the speckled busier granites and chose a granite that has more “motion” with long veining.
Marble As the trend moved away from granite, photographs of immaculate white kitchen popped up in magazines and design blogs. Huge kitchen islands gleaming with white Carrera marble. It is definitely a look worth photographing. However, is it practical? Marble is an extremely porous stone so stains are possible even with the best sealant. Red wine or tomato sauce could be a potential disaster on a marble surface. But it is so pretty! It didn’t take long for quartz to become popular to give the look of marble without the worry of stains.
Quartz The varieties of Quartz is endless. There is every color you could ever imagine. This is possible because Quartz is a man made product. And like most man made products, they took something from nature and made it better for our use. Just like hardiplank looks like real wood siding without the maintenance or issues, some variations of Quartz has been made to look like Carerra Marble.
But Quartz is not a less expensive option to natural countertop material. It is typically more expensive than granite. However, unlike granite it requires no maintenance. So for those who dread sealing granite every six months, you may enjoy the ease of Quartz.
Quartzite Not to be confused with Quartz, Quartzite is a natural stone similar to granite. It is often referred to as an “exoctic” granite which translates to “more expensive” and “hard to find”. There are many styles of Quartzite but the patterns within the natural stone fall somewhere in between marble and granite.
Like granite, Quartzite needs to be sealed once every six months. Although not as porous as marble, it is not as stain resistant as granite.
Melissa is an outstanding real estate agent and a joy to work with. She took the time to understand our needs in a new home, worked tirelessly running down leads, and has stayed upbeat and positive during a difficult search. We not only consider her as our real estate agent, but a friend. Our experience has been so positive that we absolutely plan on working with Melissa in the future.— Phil D.
It was truly a pleasure to work with Amy. Not only is she knowledgeable and responsive, but she is patient and takes the time to explain the process of selling a home and makes you feel comfortable with what can be a very complicated process. Amy truly made the process easy for us and sold our property in a week.— David P.
Stasia was very professional and friendly during our home buying experience. She helped us find houses to look at that met our requirements and was able to fill us in on information that we were not familiar with as first time home buyers.— Aaron Hale