Building a house for any purpose is one significant undertaking, and the less experience you go in with, the more time and money it is going to cost you.
A waste of time and money can turn your new home from a dream into a nightmare very quickly, so I have selected the 9 most important tips to consider before starting any sort of house build.
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At the time of this writing, I have been involved with multiple remodels including my own house top to bottom, investment properties, 2nd homes as well as two ground up builds. I have never built my dream home from the ground up, but the things that I have learned apply regardless of your situation.
In fact, these can be valuable tools for a custom home, remodel or new build of a track home. Let my experience and wasted time and expenses be your guide to making your project as smooth as possible. When you’re done with your build you will probably be able to write your own blog post about what you learned building your dream home.
1. Your Architect & Builder Should be on the Same Page
This is a vital piece of information I didn’t even consider could be otherwise when I started building. My architect introduced me to my contractor/builder, so I assumed that they were well versed in each other’s tendencies for the construction process.
That assumption was not correct, and I learned that assumptions are very bad when it comes to building a permanent structure.
It is during the design phase that mistakes and miscommunications are the least expensive and easiest to fix. Of my 9 tips for building a house this is the one that will really set you off on the right foot for your home build or not.
Consider when you communicate with a significant other or coworker, and think about how often what you thought you were saying is not what they understood.
In those situations you can usually correct the issue and then make sure you are on the same page. In building a house the fix isn’t always so easy.
Therefore, the first step to ensuring that your general contractor and architect are on the same page is to ensure that you are communicating your needs and wishes clearly. I have found that using pictures either that you have taken or find online to explain what you are looking for can help.
Designing a home is not an easy undertaking and you will need to carry parts of the process along.
Once you are clear in your communication about the building process you can then ensure your Architect and Contractor are also on the same page. The reason for this importance is that the architect if they understand your needs, as well as budget can design your house to hit all the points but in a way that you can also minimize build costs.
As an example, let’s say that you love bathrooms with light and your floor plan is split where you end up having a bathroom on the other side of the house away from all other plumbing. Maybe that’s exactly what you want and you are perfectly fine with additional construction cost for that special plumbing.
However, maybe in your communication with the two you decide that the extra expense is not worth it and you would prefer to adjust the design instead. These kinds of adjustments can only happen when all parties are in clear communication. That’s why when you build your new home it is vital that you have both sides moving in the same direction.
2. Review Your House Plans & Know Where your Water Line Is
Having good communication with your contractor and architect is also important when it comes to reviewing your home plans before submission. As the one actually building your new house the contractor can find potential design flaws early on in the process. An internal review of your plans can also potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars later as well.
During our second build, a significant expense arose because of our own inexperience and lack of communication.
The water line and meter box for the property is right in the middle of where the proposed driveway is meant to go, so the plans called for moving the meter. This process takes a significant amount of time, and costs A LOT of money!!
Had we reviewed our initial plans closely enough and had better communication before the home building process got under way, we would have made a very easy change.
We literally would have just flipped the design of the house. There was no specific reason for having the garage and driveway on the side we chose and it would have been so easy to just do the design as a mirror image. Very quickly the garage, master bedroom and hall bathroom flip to the other side and presto.
Same house just a mirrored copy. However, once you submit plans, break ground and start pouring foundation it is too late!!
Not knowing where our water line was and where it was moving to was a very expensive mistake, but it was far from the only one. Our communication to the architect wasn’t clear enough and window dimensions were not what we wanted in some places on the house.
We were fortunate that our communication with our builder was very clear because he alerted us to the issue (after framing was under way) but just in time to make the adjustment and get the window sizes we wanted.
Your ability to make decisions on the fly is a great asset, but do yourself a huge favor and review the plans for your home carefully. Take the time to google the things you don’t understand as well as ask even the questions that make you feel a little dumb because you get one shot at it doing your home right.
3. A House Goes up Faster than Expected
Getting your plans approved can take months, and the more special requests you have the more hoops you will have to jump through. However, once the foundation is poured the actual construction of the frame happens much faster than you might expect.
You may go see a flat lot with just a foundation and come back in a few days and be able to make out where your laundry room, master bedroom and living room are going to be. This is an even better reason to do like Santa and double and triple check your list, or in this case house plans. Mistakes when building a home are very expensive.
The reality of seeing your house come up out of nowhere may make you feel like your builder is way a head of schedule. Never fear, they most likely are not…
The shell of the new house will jump right up but the full construction will take every bit of the time frame they gave you. Once the walls and even rafters are up there is still an immense amount of work to do. In fact your eyes may play tricks on you throughout phases of the process.
I have found that sometimes when there is only a frame the footprint of the house seems small. Then, once you get the plywood up on the sides you start to feel more the actual size of spaces. Maybe that’s just me though. I would recommend taking some time to be able to see the framing happen on your new home because it is something pretty cool to see.
4. Build your Home for how you will Live
This might seem too simple to even put on this list, so let me approach it a little differently. My wife and I (my wife mostly lol) are guilty of planning for how we really want things to be.
Let’s say that the idea of a formal dining room is something you’re in love with but your family never eats at the table together. You desperately want that dining room because of how you wish the family live but doesn’t.
Instead, maybe you have family come to visit regularly so making that dining room a guest room might make a lot more sense for how you will actually use your home.
These are things your builder and architect can not decide for you, so it takes some introspection to decide what reality will look like versus what you wish it looked like. Home is where the heart is but home is also where your crazy life happens so plan for things like that before the building process.
On the flip side the design of your home can also influence your behaviors. Consider when we did the remodel on our home we had to take down several walls between the kitchen, living room family room and dining areas. Prior to the remodel ( you can find that post and video here) we almost never used the dining table except for storage.
Since the remodel with the open floor plan we still use it for storage but we also use it regularly for dinners. The new flow makes the dining area part of the kitchen, living room and family room and eating at the table no longer feels like a punishment.
If you want a large master bath and a soaking tub, get the soaking tub if you are going to use it. If that huge tub takes storage space, or counter space or leads to a small laundry room that you might otherwise use day to day then give it a second thought. Either way, communicate with your builder because the end it is your home and you make the rules.
5. Consider an Interior Designer
I will make the same disclaimer I have made in other posts, I have not used an interior designer or decorator in the past so this is all conjecture. However, I do know that for those who don’t have the time, energy or design eye to make it happen on their own a designer can get you the finished product you want without the heartache.
From the feel of a space to help on light fixture choices there is real value in working with a designer (from what I hear). I understand that design work can be significant cost so if that’s what you want make sure you budget it in your construction costs.
If you want to forgo a designer I would recommend to err on the side of flexibility. What do I mean by flexibility? Let’s say that you love entertaining so you build a living room with a wet bar, built in bar face and shelves for all your mixers and spirits. (which sounds awesome by the way)
Then, six months after you find out you’re having your first kid and now you are trying to figure out if that built in wet bar really makes sense or if the space could have been better utilized. It is much easier and cheaper to move or even replace furniture and repaint than it is to start tearing apart walls when things change.
In today’s world of work from home that extra space that you might have passed on before may be integral to the usefulness of your home for years to come.
Or perhaps you can shrink your master bedroom a little and reduce storage space in order to give yourself an office within the same square footage. Whatever that currently unforseen situation is, give yourself the flexibility to grow in your new home, so that you don’t outgrow it before you have even finished the construction process.
It might not seem like it right now, but your taste will change, trends will change and your needs will change so focus on building a home that will allow for those changes.
6. Know Your Finishes
Whether you use a designer or not you should know what finishes you are going to choose in your home before you get to the end. If you are someone like me that likes consistency your choices in things such as lighting, faucets, door handles, etc will be influenced by your appliances choices, wall colors, etc.
When it comes to continuity of design in your home all of these things matter. None of your choices for cabinets, floors, counters, appliances, etc is made in a vacuum they all have an effect on one another. Together they make up the overall look and feel of your home.
Consider that construction people are not necessarily the best decision makers when it comes to your finishes. Don’t leave it up to your builder, you should be involved in the finish choices for your home.
Home building is a trade, an art and a science all in one. You will need to move from analytical mind, to creative mind and back again and again. Always be planning ahead so that you are ready for the next phase rather than just reacting.
Your laundry room might not seem important now, but when you move in you don’t want to be thinking, damn it I really wish we should have chosen the other counters. Again this is a place that pictures are invaluable.
DO NOT be afraid to steal ideas from other people, and certainly do not make this the only blog you read about new home construction tips. I want you to absolutely love your home when construction is done.
7. Your Inspector Has a lot of Control
Of all the tips this might surprise you the most like it did me, but your local building inspector is essentially a dictator when it comes to their areas of responsibility.
Even with approved plans in place, with specific features your inspector can demand changes or adjustments. Like any other business you can “ask to speak to their manager,” but there is no guarantee how that will go.
It is important to get a feel for the inspector early on and to have an open dialogue of communication. On our first build we had an inspector that required us to change the type of roofing material during final inspection for two covered decks and a lower roof area.
In the end their recommendation was likely the best course, but I still wonder why the city approved it on the plans to start. In addition I wondered why the inspector that had been to the property a half a dozen other times never mentioned it before the final inspection (other than just to mess with us).
The last thing you want to do is make your inspector mad, because they are essentially the kings and queens of the jungle during your home building process. Treat them with respect and the vast majority of the time you will have a positive interaction. In the end their job is to look out for your safety and the overall safety in your city.
8. Some Adjustments can be Made
Despite the possibility of your inspector ruling with an iron fist, there are changes that can be made on the job site without significant issues, and without needing to resubmit plans.
During our first build we ran into an issue in which the planned area for the air conditioning ducts and vents was not large enough. We were able to expand the area by bumping out the planned hall closet just a couple of feet into an open part of the landing.
On the same project each unit had two balconies, but the plans for the side balcony did not reflect floors that were lower then the bedroom floors as they should have been. That meant that rain would have potentially flooded the apartment. We made an adjustment and put windows and an AC vent and made it a sun room/porch without significant issue.
On another project we learned most of our lessons, but we had plans for a hall closet to back up against the closet for a guest room. Neither closet would have been very big alone, and we already had enough hall closet space in the house.
Because it was not a load bearing wall we just combined the two closets to create a walk in closet for the guest room. The look from the hall is cleaner that it would have been and the extra bedroom gets a nice big closet. Win Win!
Now, I am far from an expert and these were just my experiences so don’t expect that it is the same everywhere. Make sure you do your own research. The point is though, that small mistakes or oversights in the plans don’t have to be devastating to your finished home project and doesn’t need to lead to a bigger bill from your builder.
9. The Final Touches Can Cost More than Expected
The last 5% of your build might cost more money that you would have expected. Depending on what look your home will take on the faucets, towel racks, shower trim, kitchen faucet and sinks might cost more than you think.
In addition with an ongoing trade war, imported pieces are going to cost more. Take your time and shop around for the look and finish you want and for what is in your budget.
One thing you should NOT skimp on is shower/tub trim, which is the finished exposed parts like the shower head handle and diverter. If you have issues later on because you installed the cheapest off brand shower kits you may cause yourself a lot more headaches later.
The valves that are installed in the wall will need to match the brand of shower trim you are going to buy. So that means if your builder installs Delta valves you will need to buy Delta trim to match.
If you are in a spot to trim expenses make sure to get what you need in the master bedroom and bath and safe in the other bathrooms and bedrooms. it’s most important for you to love your parts of the home.
Now that you have read about some of our numerous mistakes, mishaps and tips I hope you are ready to take on your own project. I want you to learn from my mistakes as well as my successes so that when it’s your turn you can teach someone else what you know.
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Best of luck to you and your builder in producing a beautiful home that will fit your needs for years to come.