Where to put the money when designing a home?
When designing a home, there’s always a thousand things you want. The reality is there’s usually a budget. These are some of the most important things to plan right from the start that are expensive to change later.
1. Design Make sure you have a bit of room to grow in your new home and most importantly make sure it’s in the location you want. Also if you purchase a home plan that shows stone columns and an arch over the front porch or a dormer over the garage or some other design element that you decide to change, spend the time and ask your draftsman to draw your idea up for you. It’s very easy to do a quick front view to see what it will look like. If you don’t, you might have a hard time re-selling the home later. I've seen this first-hand with small builders doing spec homes. They skimp on some of the exterior design elements and can’t sell the home because the lacks the curb appeal it was meant to have.
2. Foundation Talk to your designer and make sure they meet or exceed the recommended reinforcing for your foundation. No one wants a leaky basement. Though concrete most always does crack, make sure the waterproofing is the membrane type adhered to the exterior side of the foundation prior to back-filling. While your have the wall open make sure the footing drains are properly installed.
3. Floor Joists Talk with your designer and make sure the joists specified are not at the maximum capacity for the span. It’s also worth mentioning that open web floor joists, though costing more up front, save your sub-contractors time and you space by allowing many of the mechanical s, plumbing and wiring to be routed through the web instead of below or worse yet drilled through. Ask your builder if some of the added cost can be recovered with lower bids on mechanical installations like plumbing, heating and electrical.
4. Sub-floor 3/4” OSB (oriented strand board) is typical and tongue and groove is standard but make sure it’s also glued with construction adhesive and either nailed with 2” or longer ring shank nails or screwed down. If you miss either of these you’ll probably end up with squeaky floors later.
5. Quality Insulation Spray foam Insulation, open or closed cell. The cost of energy is not coming down and spray foam insulation costs are. This is one item that will pay for itself very quickly. Spend the extra money and do the attic floor too but don’t get talked into doing the underside of the roof unless you plan on finishing that space. You don’t want to heat any more area than necessary. Remember wherever you heat you also need ventilation because with heat comes moisture. If it’s a dead area that’s warm but doesn't have any air flow, you’ll eventually have mold or mildew. Speaking of air flow, make sure all the vents (bathroom and range hood) are vented to the exterior. Also no bath vents should vent to the eaves. The warm moist air will rise back into the attic and create mold.
6. Quality windows and doors There's a big difference in windows. Beware of vinyl. Not just because they’re vinyl but because:
A. There’s so many vinyl window manufacturers to choose from, good and bad very few have a long track record to rely on.
B. Because vinyl is expands and contracts, which means proper installation is crucial.
Windows are a big part of the cost of the home for good reason. They’re essential for energy efficiency, look and function and cannot be easily changed later. Too many people I know have nice homes with vinyl windows that don’t work very well. If you're planning vinyl windows, do your homework. I recommend avoiding them all together.
7. Quality trusses Yes that’s one you don’t hear much about. Here’s the thing; at the roof edge where the truss extends out to the overhang is where the truss is the thinnest. An energy truss costs a little extra but adds some height here (called "heel height": top of the wall to the bottom of roof sheathing) so you have room for the recommended insulation where it’s most important. That’s why so many homes in colder climates like Michigan have ice dams. It’s not uncommon for an economy truss to be 4” or so at this point. If the recommended insulation is about 12” to get R-38-49, you see what I mean. Warmth reaches the underside of the roof through this thin area of insulation, melts the snow, freezes to ice, then melts, re-freezes and up the roof it goes right under the shingles. This is also why ice and water shield protection is also so important (and required by code).
8. Roof sheathing 7/16” roof sheathing is barely enough to span 24” even with clips. All of my house plans I call out 1/2”. I've walked on enough roofs to know that roofs with 7/16” sheathing feel spongy and I've seen several even sagging between the trusses. If I were going to build a new home right now, and I had a little extra money in the budget I might even use 5/8" plywood. 1/2" is acceptable, but minimum.
9. Heating Systems If you can afford to go with Geo-thermal with hydronic radiant floor heat, that’s the most comfortable in my opinion. Forced air is most typical and within budget for most of us but if you're building the home of your dreams, spend the money now. Energy costs are not going down. Heck why not consider a zero energy home. Wind, Solar.....Hot topics right now so do some research.
Delay Other Upgrades if necessary Things like solid surface counter tops, hardwood flooring, wood shelving, crown moldings and built-ins are all things that can be upgraded later without too much trouble. Same goes with finished spaces like the basement and garage, both of which can be done later as well.