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So You Want To Build a House!

There are many factors to consider when making the decision whether to build.  This section is an overview of the major construction phases, questions to be answered, as well as some of our experienced opinions: Complete details are in the works.

Site Conditions:

  • Is the building lot flat or sloped?
  • Are there trees you want to save?
  • Is the soil solid or is it soft and may present problems supporting the house?

Ground and site conditions are the biggest unknown when constructing a house, even the experts allow for the unexpected in these areas. When you excavate under the surface, what will you find? Bad soil can add unexpected costs to support the house. Perfectly flat land may present problems due to drainage issues. Building lots that are too steep may have erosion concerns. Most site conditions are not perfect, you just need to know what to look for!

Footers and Foundation:

Bad soil will require special work on the footers, possibly involving a structural engineer. Are you building a crawl space foundation, a full basement foundation, or a slab? Should you use brick and block or poured concrete? Do you excavate the foundation flat or with a slope and use a stepped footer?

Framing Carpentry:        How do you find a carpentry crew? How much do you pay? What should the draw schedule be? What are their responsibilities, who cleans up? (You will find trash removal to be more expensive than you think.)

Plumbing:        How do you locate a reliable plumber? What kind of plumbing materials do they use…PVC... CPVC... PEX...copper…etc? In most cases let them provide the fixtures, with you making the selections.

HVAC:        Who to choose? What kind of system and ductwork will they install…metal trunk…flexduct…etc? Ask lots of questions as to cold air return locations, SEER ratings on AC, gas, oil, or electric heat, heat pump, etc?

Electrical:        Evaluate your lifestyle before deciding on your electrical needs in this new house. Do you like ceiling fans…floodlights on every corner of your house…garage/workshop/freezer circuits …exterior yard lighting…ceiling lights in bedrooms vs switched wall plugs…etc?

Insulation:        Learn insulation requirements for your area from building standards department of your local government. Do you want house wrap…just how tight do you want your house to be? Will extra insulation pay off in lower utility bills?

Drywall:        Most drywall contractors finished work is acceptable, the challenge is holding them to the standard you deserve! How many visits are included for point-up…you should negotiate at least two: 1st...After painters have primed the sheetrock. 2nd...After carpet and all final mechanicals have been done. You should have the contractor provide materials and labor (turnkey) for drywall. You need to decide if you want drywall returns on windows in place of wood trim? This will increase the drywall price slightly, but will save you money overall due to decreased trim cost.

Trim Carpentry:        There are a lot of choices to make in this area. What level of trim do you want….crown molding, chair rail, tall baseboard, etc. The level is quite variable in cost, but also can be some of the best money you spend on your home for it’s resale value. Most trim carpenters price their work by the square foot of house, and then adjust it up or down for the level of trim you request. Will the job be turnkey or will you provide the materials? Should you use MDF trim, wood, or a combination of both?

Painting:        Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, do not consider painting your own house. This is something many "first time homebuilders" try to do, and learn the hard way! After you see the amount of work your painter does, you’ll be glad it wasn’t you. He not only paints, he sands, and he caulks everything…and depending on your trim level that could be a lot!!!

When interviewing contractors make sure you have an understanding (in writing) of how many coats of wall paint, ceiling paint, and trim painting he will apply, and how many visits he will make. They should prime paint the bare sheetrock (after interior trim), and then return a few days later after your drywall contractor has pointed up to finish the painting. They need to return after carpet and all mechanical trades have finished (1-2 weeks before you move in) and do a final touch-up. This touch up can sometimes be pretty extensive depending on how many marks the plumbers, HVAC, electricians, flooring, etc, have made on the walls and trim. You’ll need to point up dings with spackle compound in preparation for painting. Exterior painting is a separate issue, and if you have extensive amounts it will actually help you negotiate with the subcontractor, because the job represents more income to him..

Siding:        What kind of siding are you going to use? There are many to choose from including vinyl siding, wood siding, cement siding, pressed fiberboard, brick, aluminum, or some other type. WOW…the choices! Keep in mind that different geographical areas of the country favor different siding choices. For example, the northeast U.S. has more vinyl siding than the southeast and western U.S. The reasons for this vary, but the availability of other materials such as brick in areas rich in clay make brick less expense. will teach you siding installation, it’s easy and many homeowner can do it!

Roofing:       Do you like heights? Factors such as the slope of the roof, your fear of heights, and the complexity of the roof will determine whether you hire this out or do it yourself. For standard 3 tab shingles the closer you get to $50.00 per square installed (labor and materials) the more you should consider hiring it out. Your best bet for price is to check out the roofers that production builders use, and see what price range they will be in. Often one of them will do it "on the side" at a lower price!

Flooring:      Our best recommendation for flooring (especially vinyl and carpet) is to make your selections at the store of your choice and let them install everything. Check around and ask for names of satisfied customers. There is a lot of competition in flooring, and carpet is almost a commodity item, so the pricing tends to be quite competitive. You can demand the installation quality be up to acceptable industry standards, and if not you reserve final payment.

Hardwood and ceramic flooring might be another issue. Do you want pre-finished hardwood or site finished? The more out of the mainstream your selections are, the more opportunity the contractor has to raise the price. For example, if you want hardwood installed in a herringbone pattern, or at a diagonal, the contractor will view your job as being more labor intensive. Because of this, he will allow extra time and additional profit into the bid to make sure he is covered for the unexpected. Along the same lines if you choose an unusual ceramic tile, the contractor will add a fudge factor of additional cost because he has not laid this tile before and does not know it’s characteristics. This is true for all areas of building your house…the farther you stray from the contractors comfort zone, the more of a fudge factor they will add. They are not in the business of losing money because you selected something they were not familiar with.

Ceramic tile and wood floor can be installed easily by the homeowner….check back for details on installing both!

Flatwork Concrete:         Talk about a permanent home improvement! Because mistakes are very costly to fix, this is an area you will want to hire out to professionals! This is almost always a turnkey project, but one way to save money might be to hire a crew leader from an established company and have him do your work on the side. If you do this you will probably have to pay the concrete driver on the spot (COD), and may even have to order the concrete since the worker does not have an account with the supplier. Concrete material prices vary quite a bit depending on the company’s attitude toward COD deliveries, and one time customers. Make sure you call every concrete supplier in your area for pricing.

Gutters and downspouts:       Hire this out! This is another competitive area so pricing should be respectable, and the quality of most installations is acceptable.

Garage doors:         Purchase a builder’s level (probably sound insulated) metal door unless you have strong desires for something else. Wood doors are high maintenance and they deteriorate. Fiberglass doors are hard to find, if not impossible. "Builders" level doors are put on houses priced higher than $500,000, so they should suffice. They come in a variety of colors, and the paint finish is baked on, so maintenance is not an issue. Have the supplier install it. Garage door openers are another subject. Here is an area you can save money by purchasing your own and installing it. Compare prices at a Home Center such as Lowe's, to your contractor’s price.

Landscaping:        Landscaping is an area that many homeowners want to perform in place of hiring it out. If you decide to do this you can rent locally a tractor with box blade and/or stone rake. You will still have a large amount of hand work to do. Make sure you have your final grading contractor do as accurate a job as he is capable so that the contours and drainage swales do not require much hand work on your part.

A detailed discussion of each of these points is coming to us so you can find us!

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