Building a new house - tips and tricks please

I’m going to do my bit for the US economy, buy a scraper and then build new. Actually, in the 'hood I want to settle in, prices haven’t come down that much from the peak. It actually works out significantly cheaper to buy, scrape, and build with construction wages at a low point. That and with my autistic daughter, we can design a place that is pretty safe and convenient for all of us.

What kind of :smack: moments did you have after the fact? That said, what do I need in a new house? Was it worth putting in extra sockets for every room? Any voice of experience would be welcome. Thanks in advance.

The National Electric Code is pretty generous with the amount of available outlets, you’ll find. However, available isn’t always where you necessarily want them. Whenever I’m helping friends or family do a renovation, I always throw an extra outlet next to the door jamb, so that it’ll be blocked when the door is opened. That way no furniture will ever be placed in front of it, so you’ll always have one to plug a vacuum into.

there are hundreds of things one could look out for. Since you are starting from bare earth, you have some advantages. Lets see. I have a couple of real fundemental suggestions. That is, things that you won’t see afterwards-hopefully.

The workmanship on the walls. One thing we learned the hard way was to make sure-up front with the contractor, that the interior walls are straight. I was very surprised to see just how hard it is to get sheetrock on walls where the studs aren’t straight and even. The trick is: it isn’t that hard! But it looks bad afterwards. What happens is that the carpenters put up the studs and some of the studs are warped or the baseplate is 1/4" off plumb or the wall isn’t exactly where it is planned. When the sheetrock is put up, it bends to conform. You don’t notice until much later when you look parallel to the wall and see a wave. Make sure you and the contractor are satisfied up front on the inspection procedures. If I were you, I wouldn’t accept anyone’s word. I would specify some inspection procedure. At least in part because it will look OK when just the studs are up. Neither you nor the contractor nor the carpenter can be sure it is straight just by looking at the bare studs. If you make this clear to the contractor up front, everyone should be on board. The carpenters certainly know what they should do. Knowing the work will be inspected simply means they do it right the first time. And then the finish on the walls. If you are daring-and the contractor will agree, have the walls floated instead of textured. It is much harder to do since it doesn’t hide inperfections, but if your contractor will try it looks really nice. Some contractors won’t do it simply because if they make a mistake it will be obvious and expensive to fix.

Make sure you and the contractor are there for all the inspections. If something doesn’t look right, ask. We had a difficult time with plumbing in the walls-the original contractor (I bought a used house and had to rebuild after Katrina) didn’t use 2x6s (or double 2x4s-whatever the code requires) in all the wet walls. Most of the time it worked. A couple of times traps and joints protruded and made finishing the walls difficult.

I don’t know how general this is, but in my mind now a dropped ceiling anywhere-bathrooms or where-ever, is a sign something is wrong. The contractor is hiding some flaw in the design. Challenge it during the design and see what happens. If the cost starts to climb, find out why.

Ask about insulation. Ask again. Foam insulation in the attic and walls seems popular right now. It certainly insulates well! Whether it is safe long-term I can’t say. Finding the best way to insulate the walls and attic is harder than it used to be and you only have one chance. Same for windows. I have heard that 20% of the construction cost goes in to windows. Perhaps that is true for good windows. Certainly it should be.

Doors are expensive. Shop around. I easily found $10,000 front doors available. I ended up spending $4,000 on just one door! Don’t wait until the last minute on those. It takes time to find a good deal.

Talk to the electrician about the service panel. Make it bigger than needed. Try to get a higher quality panel. Easier said than done since everyone builds to the minimum spec now. But it is certainly worth making it clear to the electrician that an $1800 panel is more acceptable than a $1200 one. Considering it’s importance, it is definitely worth the money.

Hopefully some real contractors/engineers will be along shortly to correct amplify my comments. :slight_smile:

I have never built a house. But I just finished a major, year-long project building a rec room in our basement. My best advice is this: before building, spend LOTS of time learning about modern construction techniques and modern construction materials. Do ***not ***depend on you contractor to know the best way to do things. While your contractor may be a good and honest person, he may also be “old school” in terms of his knowledge and techniques.

I ran into this quite a bit with the contractor I hired to help me with the basement. He was a great guy, but very old school. Had I left it up to him, the floor (in my opinion) would have been constructed wrong. I spent a lot of time online determining the best way to put down a subfloor, and am now very happy with the result. My contractor was also pleased that I showed him some new ways of doing things.

This doesn’t mean you should not listen to advice provided by your contractor; quite the contrary. I’m only saying that you should do your own research - *lots *of it - beforehand.

A recent home build here was plagued with dust marring the varnish on the hardwood floors. I think the house should have been really thoroughly blown out (leaf blower) or vacuumed during construction. After the drywall is cut for can lights, outlets, etc. jump on the dust. Especially above the ceiling around the can lights. I think the wind was mobilizing the dust on the upper surface of the ceilings around all the can lights when they were varnishing the floors. Three applications of varnish later, the floors still look ‘dusty’.

Mkae sure there are enough circuits for the plug ins too. Another local house had one circuiit for the garage and the laundry room. Bad idea, the washing machine takes quite a bit of power, and using power tools in the garage while it was running would pop the breaker.

If you anticipate a freezer in the garage or a mostly unused basement area, wire another plug in on that circuit to a lamp outlet in the living room or somewhere you’ll notice, if that breaker pops you don’t want to loose a freezer full of frozen food.

Some local cable TV companies will wire TV jacks for free. After they leave, string more wire for satellite and antenna. Main TV locations need 3 coaxes run to a common ‘head’ area in the utility room, kids bedrooms, offices, etc, always run 2 coax. Run one or 2 coaxes from head to TV antenna location, and 4 from head to satellite dish location. You can do this to save $. Menards has 500 ft rolls of RG-6 for around $50. Way easier to do this before drywall, and who wants to see a new house with wires stapled to the siding all over? Easy problem to avoid.

(Yeah, I know DirecTV SWM needs one wire from head to dish, run 4 anyhow)

Watch how many doors open into a small space, my sisters house has 3 doors that are always banging into each other in the entry way.

Remember, sliding doors are nice, but you cannot have a TV, phone or AC plug where they slide in the wall area.

Outdoor plug ins are nice, especially near a deck if you are building one.

I know this sounds dumb, but I have seen people have bedrooms open into living spaces without doors. This, IMHO, is a real bad idea. Also, another weird one, the master bath and the master bath should be adjoining. Another one is to have a garage physically attached to the house, but no door connecting the two, you go outside to get in the garage. Weird and strange goof.

Be cautious of having a stairwell canted at an angle to the general grid of the house. It may make the entry look cool, but you now have angled walls to deal with in all the adjoining rooms. Particularly a problem for a kitchen.

If you have stone counter tops, think of using the scraps (corners, sink cut out) around the fireplace. Stone is expensive, and using the same stuff around fireplace and kitchen looks nice.

Having indentation in wall behind refrigerator will let you get a deeper, bigger one with out it jutting into kitchen. Reinforce wall behind fridge with a sheet of plywood under the drywall, and don’t worry about a missing stud or two behind fridge.

Got a CPAP machine? Get a longer hose and put that darn noisy thing in the closet, and have the tube to the mask come out of floor or wall near your bed.

(I might think of more later, I work in many new houses)

**rbroone **has some great points.

If I were building a house, I would pay extra and use “better” quality materials throughout. As they say, “When you buy quality, you only cry once.” If I were building a house I would do the following:

  • With the exception of lighting circuits, I would run 12 AWG Romex for all 120 VAC receptacle circuits.

  • All water lines would be copper (not plastic!) soldered with lead-free solder. They would also be insulated.

  • No OSB. (I *hate *OSB.) I would only use real plywood or AdvanTech[sup]®[/sup].
    Are you also building a basement?

RG-6 Quad shield

Cat 6 to each room, maybe twice to den/bedrooms

Extra outlets everywhere.

extra outlets AND extra circuts in the kitchen

plan for extra fridge/freezer and dedicated circuits for them

ADA/chair hight toilets. (you’ll thank me later…)

make space for fridge AT LEAST big enough for todays larger fridges (AT LEAST 35")

oversize the garage (figure cars, plus workbench, PLUS plenty of room to walk around both)

place the laundry area where the hose from the dryer is the shortest, straightest path possible

work with a lighting expert, try to go for as much LED lighting as you can

insulate, insulate, then insulate

Ground heatpump?

drywells for roof runoff

raidenet heat for bathroom floors?

come to a understanding with the electrician that he should pretend he is wireing his house

make sure the subfloor is screwed down, not straight nailed

exhaust for over stove

Make sure a light switch near a door is far enough from the door so it does not interfere with the door trim.

I like having little florescent light under the sink cabinet, but people very rarely put them in. Lights in closets are a good idea. Just make sure stuff piled on top shelf won’t hit fixture.

If your house is long, and has a basement, consider stairwell in center of house, not end, or have 2 stairwells to basement (if it is to be used a lot).

2 double garage doors, to me, looks better than one double and one single door and 3 or 4 single doors adjacent to each other looks way to ‘busy’. A small garage door on the opposite side of the garage from the main doors might get used way more than you think (lawn mower, golf cart, kids stuff, etc.) And the main doors remain shut all day so the house looks nice.

We should have added 18 inches to our kitchen. That would have given us clearance when the dishwasher was open to walk around the dishwasher. Little things like doors opening into other doors.

Pay attention on a floorplan to things like “how do I get the groceries into the house” and “how do I move laundry around” - those are the things that drive you nuts. My mother lives in a splitlevel. To move groceries in, she parks in the garage, goes down half a story into the basement and then up a full story to the kitchen. My laundry is in my garage entry and is too small.

With kids, get cheap flooring and plan on replacing it.

Think about things like “where do I stick the Christmas tree, and then where do I store it?” We’ve looked at a lot of houses where you’d need a storage garage just for the Christmas crap - and that doesn’t even get into all the other crap that collects. You need somewhere for old cans of paint, the garden hose, the boxes of treasures your kids aren’t ready to let go of.

Hire both a good Architect and a good Contractor. That means interviewing at least three. Don’t hire them based on price. Talk to their references–and that means talk to them. Find out ‘how’ they work. Don’t rely on what they say at the interview about how they work, find out from someone who has used them how they work. People can say anything but doing is much more important.

Find an Architect who understands the value of a good Contractor and find a Contractor who understands the value of a good Architect. If you hear derogatory words from either one about the other–RUN! Anyone who is any good in this business knows and understands the value of the other. It may be a grudging respect but it is respect for what they can bring to the project. Anyone who doesn’t have that is going to cost you a lot of money somewhere on the project when they start the blame game.

Frankly these two people will either make this a good project or make it a living hell for you. The third entity is ‘you’. Be decisive and not wishy-washy. When you are wishy-washy you will cost yourself a ton of money in change orders, etc. Time is money to both the Architect and the Contractor and the subs. There is leeway in what they will do for free, but don’t abuse that leeway.

The issues noted above about studs out of line, etc is very true but a good Contractor and Architect should catch that stuff for you.

If you have spaces that you can use for storage, find them and have either a door or a access panel put in. You will need it. My first house I purchased out here was under construction and I talked the builder into using the space above the kitchen for a childrens playroom. It was space he was just going to enclose as attic and for very little money it turned into a great room that we could leave all the kids toys in, and not have them scattered around the house. When I sold that house that SF increased the value of the house as well. Great investment and it took looking at something and seeing the opportunity. Keep your eyes open for stuff like that.

Use real materials if you can afford it. In my current house I had a real wood floor put in rather then the veneers. I can refinish this floor many times and bring it back to life. It is much more difficult with a veneer floor to do that and eventually it will need to be replaced. As someone mentioned above you only cry once with quality materials. If you can afford it do it–but I understand budgets are budgets and choices have to be made.

One final note as a practicing Architect. Make sure your marriage is strong. Building a house will test the best of marriages. Be prepared for that and hopefully discuss with your wife beforehand how you will deal with conflicts between each other and surprises during construction.

Good luck!

Find a really good contractor. Really good. So good that every home they have built is awesome. Make sure that contractor uses excellent sub-contractors. Get references and check the work of the general contractor and subs. Don’t just go by a “master” builder name or something like that; my mom’s house was built by a master builder in 1986 and the quality of work is worse than in my 1995 manufactured home.

Be on site as much as you can. Do not let them close up walls without you looking. As alluded to above, if your framing guys don’t install studs right you will have wavy walls.

Get good quality triple-pane windows. The sound difference and energy savings will be worth it.

Do not use OSB. Use the appropriate quality and thickness plywood for your roof sheeting, your outside sheathing, your subfloors.

Check into spray foam insulation. It really helps make a place more airtight.

Make sure your interior doorways are sufficiently wide. I don’t expect everyone to like 36-inch interior doors, but if you are going to retire there it will make accessibility better when you get old. I will tell you that 28-inch interior doors suck and make moving furniture extremely difficult.

Figure out how you are going to get furniture into the house. I recommend at least one set of french doors and absolutely do not put in sliding glass doors anywhere.

Situate your house well on the lot to take advantage of the sunlight.

Put in tankless water heaters.

If natural gas is available where you are, get a gas cooktop and separate electric ovens.

Do not put in a wood-burning fireplace unless you are somewhere where it is a practical solution for heat. Otherwise, expect to watch your heat and cooling go right up the chimney.

Do not skimp on closet space. Have a separate laundry room with a sink. Have an interior storage area for household tools like vacuums, brooms and such.

Plan for a upright freezer.

The mention of architects makes me think of a book I’m currently reading – What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You. I’m just reading that section.

At any rate, it seems to be chock full of good advice. Not so much specific ways to do specific building stuff, but more aimed at project management.

Put in a dumb waiter. I’ve always wanted one of those in my house.

Admittedly I’m on the bottom rung of the contractor/building ladder, but I have a few suggestions.

First of all, I second Crafter Man’s recommendation to do your own research. A good contractor welcomes an informed consumer.

Don’t use self-stick floor tiles anywhere that will see heavy traffic. Better yet, don’t use it at all. Unless you don’t remind repairing and replacing it frequently.

With children, and assuming you want be in the house for awhile, avoid the trendy materials like granite countertops. I’m a big believer in things like Formica which are easy to clean, don’t stain nearly as easily, and durable. Last I looked, it’s cheaper, too. The key words are “durable” and “easy to maintain”.

Again, consider you have children when thinking of floor coverings. Seriously consider something like industrial-grade carpeting in a kid’s rec room or room you anticipate will have a lot of traffic. Avoid floor coverings that require special care or are easily damaged. A fine wood floor in a dining room that gets little use is OK, not so much for a kitchen.

For the love of god, do NOT put carpeting in the bathrooms!

Speaking of watery places, wherever you have a sink or water input (like toilets) be sure you have a shut-off valve. It’s much easier to halt an overflowing toilet if the shut-off is right there, and you can do repairs without turning off water to the whole house. I’m continually astonished that this is NOT universal practice.

For windows, get the kind were you can wash the outside from inside the house, especially if you have a second story. This will make maintenance MUCH easier. Really, don’t get too cheap when it comes to windows and their installation.

Don’t stint on insulation, either.

Please, please, do your wife a favor and put the washer and dryer on the floor with the bedrooms. This way, no up and down the stairs.

I’ve never built a house and am in fact an apartment renter, but I’ve thought about this a lot as I’ve always wanted to own a house. And I’ve also watched a lot of home improvement shows (especially This Old House).

I’d overinsulate, so that instead of 2x4 walls filled with insulation, I’d put up 2x6 walls with more insulation. If you have a basement, try to make sure that there’s enough ceiling height to hide all of the mechanical systems while still leaving enough headroom. I really like the idea of radiant floor heating systems, particularly under tile or wood floors. (I like to go barefoot but hate cold floors.)

I prefer low-maintenance surfaces, like vinyl windows instead of wooden ones that will require repainting. Others suggested installing Category 6 network jacks and coax cable jacks and that’s a good idea, but also leave room for whatever technology comes in the future, by allowing for a cable chase between the bottom and top floors.

On This Old House, a couple of the houses they built used timber-frame construction and structured insulated panels to make the outside walls. That looked really beautiful, although I got the impression it was expensive. (BTW, does anyone know why on This Old House, they often used blueboard covered by skim-coat plaster, while most houses I’ve seen used conventional drywall with the joint compound only at the joints and over the screws?)

Based on the experiences of friends who built from the ground up: It will take more time and money than you thought. You’ll still be happy when it’s done.

Think ahead on outlets - imagine what furniture you will position around the house and think if you will need an outlet there.

We have several small tables at ends of hallways, stairs etc. where we would love to have night lights, electronic frames or chargers for phones - but we forgot the outlets.

Home networking will evolve, RG6 and CAT6 may work today - but in 10 years? I’d plan on conduit to each room so I could easily replace with fiber optics or whatever comes next.

We are nearly at the end of incandescent lighting - think hard and talk to experts about lighting.

If it’s single story house I would run plastic electrical conduit down from the attic to every outlet and then install double outlet boxes… That way you can always run whatever cable you want down the line. I’d also mirror each outlet on inner walls so they are next to each other in the next room so you create a common conduit for both outlets. The conduits would be separate from electrical cable which would be run normally.

I’d also install a geothermal system as part of the cost of the house as well as a hard mounted backup generator.

Yes, the main thing is to find yourself a good contractor, one who’s willing to make reasonable adjustments per your wishes along the way. No matter how well you’ve planned things, there will be stuff you’ll find out along the way that will require some change in plans. So an accommodating contractor is very important. We recently did a major renovation of our house, and when certain parts of the job did not come up to our standards for workmanship we asked that they be redone. You shouldn’t have a contractor to whom you cannot (or are afraid to) make such a request. As to specific tips … think ahead at how you will be furnishing the space in your house. If certain walls are going to be covered by cabinets or furniture, then make sure that electrical outlets are still accessible with the furniture in place. Also consider the furniture placement and other house decorations (like artwork) when you plan the type and location of lighting. What happens sometimes is you plan a beautiful empty house, but when you put in all your household stuff you realize that you needed an extra outlet here or a light fixture there. It’s much easier, if not completely trivial, to get that kind of work done during the project than afterwards.