You’ve done it — you’ve decided to build your first home. Congratulations — building your own home can be rewarding and exciting! But we’ve all heard the horror stories of first-time builders who neglected to consider key issues that later came back to haunt them. Don’t let that happen to you!
You want to avoid these painful — and often costly — regrets. So what should you be paying attention to as you put together your plans? Here are a few important considerations that can sometimes get lost in the excitement of building design.
Building for efficiency in heating and cooling
In these times of extreme weather, making sure a home is built to withstand the cold and heat is crucial. In the past, these factors sometimes took a backseat to more aesthetic considerations but it is possible to build a beautiful home that is also in tune with its local environment.
A first step is to look at your design and make sure that it takes into account the natural flow of air and heat common to your region and characteristic to your piece of land. This can mean anything from where specific rooms are located to placement of windows and doors. A one-size-fits-all approach to building design can be cheaper at face value, but could cost you more in the long run if it doesn’t take into account these unique environmental factors — whether in relation to temperature, local weather patterns or the idiosyncrasies of your building lot. (Read about site planning for homes built on your land.)
Another aspect of building for efficiency and savings in heating and cooling is the crucial importance of getting your HVAC system installed correctly. A retrofit for a poorly installed system will in most cases cost around the same as the original installation, so it is essential to get it right the first time. This one step is so important — not only will a poorly installed HVAC system leave you and your family too hot or too cold, it will cost you unnecessary energy dollars. Do your homework, work with a reputable builder and consider this one of your most critical investments in your construction.
Similarly, don’t skimp when it comes to insulation. You want to get a quality installation using good materials and experienced installers. Again, this saves you money in the long run. Good insulation lowers your cost of energy bills, reduces maintenance costs and helps protects your investment. It also provides a more comfortable living space.
Be sure that a thorough insulation inspection is scheduled before walls and dry wall are put up. This way common spots that are often overlooked will be found before it’s too late.
Efficient use of space
Using space efficiently is another key design factor to consider. Every inch of space should have a purpose. Really looking closely at how space is being used can often mean that square footage can be reduced in one part of the design and added in other parts. For example, more formal spaces can look impressive when they are built at a grand scale but if they are rarely used, they may be better off scaled down to a slightly smaller size. And spaces with high traffic such as hallways and kitchens may need more room to function at their best. Of course, doors and cupboards in any room should open via a logical trajectory and without blocking traffic.
A major aspect of space we can all relate to is storage — it seems we never have enough space for our stuff! Building in storage can really help cut down on the clutter. Many home organizing experts caution against designing without at least some room reserved for “rough storage”. This is the term used for the kind of miscellaneous items (boxes of holiday decorations for example) that are best stored away from the common living spaces.
Plumbing and water usage
Speaking of functionality and efficiency of space, it’s worth taking some time to reconsider conventional thinking about where some rooms are located. For example, while laundry rooms have traditionally been located in basements and lower levels, many homeowners designing their homes today are moving them upstairs to be closer to bedrooms. This may be a practical choice but if it’s something you want to add, you will have to take into account where your plumbing is being directed within your plan design.
Make sure your plumbing is installed by plumbers who are licensed and insured and that lines are inspected after installation to be sure there are no blockages in the lines. Drain lines should flow with gravity and drain quickly and cleanly both inside and outside the home.
Electrical outlets and power usage
If you love to look at home design magazines you may have noticed that electrical wires and outlets are rarely seen in pictures. There’s a good reason for this — wires are generally unsightly and home decorators and photo stylists go to great pains to obscure them from view. But this can prove impossible if the electrical usage needs of a room are not considered well in advance — i.e. right at the planning and design stage. Electronics that are hung on walls such as flat screen TVs, for example, need built in wiring solutions to avoid the dreaded “wire hanging down the wall” syndrome. Also consider things like where light switches will be the easiest to access when entering a room and where electronics are likely to be placed in a given space. Home automation is another consideration. Planning is key to ensuring you have the pre-wiring your technology might need in place.
Start Thinking about Building Your First Home Now
If you think through the basics and mentally go through the everyday activities each room will need to accommodate, you can make a note of the issues in the above categories that may apply to the space, and that will direct your largest planning decisions. Consider future uses as well as what you currently need. Your care and attention to the details will repay you in the form of comfort, beauty and ease in the home of your dreams for years to come!