Tips on Building a Home

Updated on August 09, 2010
E.C. asks from Washington, IL
11 answers

My husband and I are thinking of building a new house. I'm overwhelmed by even the thought! I don't really know anything about the process, and I'm nervous about making such big decisions without the necessary knowledge. My husband is more knowledgeable, but I want to be an equal partner. Do any of you have any tips or resources that might be helpful?

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L.A.

answers from Chicago on

The best advice I can give you is to hire and interior designer (not a decorator) to help with major things like cabinets and kitchen layouts. We hired one when we were building and her help was immeasurable. She gave us tips and suggestions on things we had no clue about and we are so glad we used her. She designed my kitchen better than the cabinet company and made suggestions about things to include in the design. They have tons of experience and can help as little or as much as you would like.

we paid ours by the hour and consulted with her for the issues we were overwhelmed with. My husband is an electrician and is very knowledgable in most all the trades but he agreed that her fee was an investment in our house and the help that she gave us was worth every penny and makes out house stand apart from some of the cookie cutter houses in the neighborhood.

I had her go shopping with me to pick out tile (thankfully!) We consulted with her on colors and furniture layouts as well. She remove alot of the stress of choosing so may things at once. We did not want to make a mistake that we would have to live with for years to come.

Make sure if you do go this route that you hire a Designer with credentials (abbreviations behind her name) not a decorator. Anyone can be a decorator they do not have to have gone to school. Designers are trained in all the principles of building, lighting design, color, form and function and they can do sketches or plans to scale that can be used by your bulider or subs whichever the case may be.

One more tip is to go to all the house walks you can. You get tons of ideas from these houses and can also pick up names of designers. They also have lots of ideas for decorating. I still go to them to get ideas and kepp my decor fresh. Check through home magazines and cut out anything you really like. That way you have a folder with pictures of things you want and are not trying to explain the "fireplace" you want to a stone cutter whos never seen a Pottery Barn Catalog.

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J.M.

answers from Chicago on

Hi E.~

The other posts are full of great info. My husband and I built our own home 7 years ago this month. I was both a great joy and a great headache. You don't realize how much actually goes into it until you are knee deep in it.
Make sure that after you have your plans done to go over them with a fine tooth comb. We then measured the existing rooms we had and said I wish I had a foot more between the wall and the vanity etc. and made sure our plans matched. Durning construction check things often to make sure you actually like them. It is easier to change things when there are only studs up than to change them once the wall board is up.
My other suggestion is to go over board on the electrical. Make sure there are plenty of recepticals (at least 2 on each wall and at least one near outside door ways)because they are much more difficult to retro fit. Also make sure that you have plenty of light. That is something that we have had trouble retro fitting because we didn't spend enough time planning for lighting.
Make sure you put in plenty of hose bibs also. We have 1 on every side of the house and it makes watering the new landscaping much easier.
Make sure you stick build the roof instead of using trusses. I didn't know the difference when we built and I regret it every time I want to store something. If you use trusses you can't store anything in your attic. I keep telling my husband that if we ever win the lottery that would be the one thing I would change.
Good Luck!
J.

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E.P.

answers from Chicago on

I loved building our home and would build another one in a heartbeat! However, we did work with a smaller contractor and our experience was a positive one. If you are your own contractor, I know that is a harder task. You will talk to people who had horrible experiences. If you go into the process, KNOWING that things CAN go wrong (and they will) but realizing that mistakes will happen and you will move on, YOU CAN DO THIS! Not every couple can build a home. It's not a negative attitude - its a realistic one. Remember: It's a process. All decisions do not have to be made immediately. It can be overwhelming. Start a binder. Make dividers for: bedrooms, carpets/flooring, windows, paint swatches, windows, important papers, lawyer, "just dreaming" section (you know, those things that you just may squeeze in!) etc... etc... It will become your bible.

There are things that I would do differently and would pay more attention to: I would definitely have, at least the bottom 1/2 of my home bricked. It, eventually saves on energy. Also, I would pay much more attention to the kinds of windows that would be installed in my home. It's one of those decisions that you can save money immediately, by installing cheaper windows, or save money later by doing it right, energy-wise.

Insulate well.

Make sure you like your flooring. Try to stay pretty neutral. The pink carpet that you pick out today, may still be on your floor 10 years from now. Same with the countertops. Yes, things can be updated. Chances are, you won't be ripping out tile, hardwood or countertops anytime soon. I love my hardwood - 10 years later, I'm ready for my funky carpet to leave!

Recently, we (FINALLY) remodeled our basement. We decided to dig our basement deeper (9 feet). Now that we have it remodeled, foresight is a great thing! The deepness is definitely worth the added expense if you are going to, eventually renovate it.

Be realistic on a time-frame. If you are building it yourself - double the time. Remember the difference between building it yourself vs. buying existing: There are a lot of little expenses that you won't realize that you will incur. When you move in, you'll become a regular at Home Depot, Menards, etc... buying toilet paper holders, switch plates, hooks, lighting, gutter downspouts/adapters, etc.. so don't spend every dime that you have, just building the home.

I know it sounds overwhelming but building our home were some of my fondest memories. Visiting our home, under construction, on Sunday afternoons was exciting; seeing the progress, standing in "the hole", trying to visualize a room when just joists were the walls and watching a sunset while sitting on an unfinished roof (yes, my 5 year old and 2 year old were with us!) Good times!

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R.K.

answers from Chicago on

Hi E.,
My hubby and I built our home. We moved in last September. I second everything that Ellen P. said in her post. It can be overwhelming but you have to be realistic in your budget and time frame and the people at Menards do become your friend. Please pm me if you have any specific questions. We built our house in South Barrington with Toll Brothers.

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A.K.

answers from Chicago on

Hi E.,

I'm not sure where you live, but my husband and I have a small homebuilding business in Glenview. I would be more than happy to help you out with what to look for and avoid with the whole building process. We've even built 3 homes for our own family so I've definelty been through the process on both sides of the desk! It can be time consuming and a bit overwhelming sometimes, but in the end it is soooo rewarding.
There are many many things to discuss, so please call me if you would like to talk about it - anytime. ###-###-####. A.

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M.M.

answers from Chicago on

We did not build our home, but live in a relatively new home. One thing we wish the previous owners hadn't had skimped on was the electric, like Jackie M said. We have very little overhead lighting downstairs and it is annoying having to light so many lamps to get decent brightness. It is nearly impossible to add the overhead lighting downstairs once the house is built. Good luck to you!

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J.M.

answers from Chicago on

E., I recommend that you find yourself an architect.

Interview at least 3-4 architects for your new home project. You can get recommendations from friends who may have built homes or even just Google "residential archtiects" for your area. Checkout their websites, read about the services they provide. You can also get names of architects from the Association of Licensed Architects and from the AIA. Both are national associations for architects. Just Google them and you'll get to their websites.

Meet in person. Let the architect know what your vision is. What are your likes and dislikes. Do you have a site selected? The architect can share with you her/his thoughts on how best to approach the project. You'll see if the architect is as passionate about your home as you and your husband are.

Don't forget the typical questions: are you licensed to practice architecture in you state, what architectural services do you provide, how available are you, do you have liability insurance, how is compensation based (percentage of construction cost, hourly, fixed fee), how long might the process take. Ask for a list of references with phone number. Call the references and check on what they liked and disliked about working with the architect. There is a need for having the right chemistry between homeowners and Architect.

The advantage of hiring an architect vs. hiring a builder or general contractor and their architect is that the your hired architect is working for you and is looking out for your best interest.

Designing a home with an architect should be educational and fun. The architect will need to get to know you and your family well enough to come up with a design that best reflects your family's needs.

For ideas check out Sarah Susanka. An architect myself, I've seen some of her work and I like many of her approaches.

Good Luck. Have fun. Be happy!

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S.E.

answers from Chicago on

Are you planning on being your own General Contractor?? If so your need to become aware of all the city or county ordinances that you must follow. You aill need to know what the impact fees will be and any other fees you may need to pay. Some subdivisions have there own fees out side of the city and county fees. Many fees are based on the number of bedrooms you put in your home.
Then you need to decide what house plan will fit on the lot you have purchased. If you want a custom designed home you need to find a good architect. If you plan on drawing your own plans you will need to still have an architects seal on your plans.
Next you need to find a good contractor for each of the trades, from a concrete contractor, all the way to a landscaper. Many times if you find a good Carpentry Contractor he can suggest to you the tradesmen he usually works with. If you are working as your own General Contractor you must line all the trades to be in your house to do there job when it is needed. The carpentry Contractor will not do that unless they get paid as a General Contractor. If you hirer someone to be your General Contractor you will not need to worry about lining up any of the trades that is his job.
You will need to go out a choose your siding, shingles, windows, doors, etc and then hirer someone to install them. Many times the Carpentry Contractor will install the windows and doors. My husband who is a Carpentry Contractor also holds a state roofing licenses and has all the equipment to hang siding. Some Contractors are just rough framers and do not deal with siding or the roof.
As the general Contractor you need to also line up all the pay outs, collect all the waivers and turn them into your bank or the title company for each trades pay out. You need to make the payouts in a timely manner or a tradesmen may place a lean on your property. Which will have to be removed before you close on your house.
You will also have to make sure that all inspections are done when they need to be done. Example footings must be inspected prior to concrete is poured. Walls must be inspected prior to putting in insulation as well as after insulation is installed and so on. After each inspection the permit need to be signed by the inspector and then put back on display. Permit must be visible at all times during construction. As a wife of a builder, Carpentry Contractor/General Contractor (Esto Builders, Woodstock) I could go on and on but may I suggest checking with your local community college and see if the office a none credit class on "How to be Your Own general Contractor." I know our local college does.

Good Luck

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T.B.

answers from Chicago on

We also built our home about 6 years ago. Had great experience but had friends going through it at same time and it was terrible. The key is selecting the best builder. One that really utilizes the best subcontractors and really checks to make sure the plans are being followed. So definitely check into references and call several to find out their experiences with each builder you evaluate. Hope that helps!

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L.R.

answers from Chicago on

Magazines, magazines, magazines, they are a ton of information,pictures and design. Visit some model home
watch hgtv. They have loads ot tips and design. Most of all enjoy watching your home come together.

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L.B.

answers from Chicago on

E.,

My husband built our home. We contracted about 30% of the work and did the rest ourselves. It took us 1 year to complete it. My daughter was born the day we had the driveway put in and it was very difficult to have a baby visit a construction area. My husband missed most of his daughters first year of life because he was working and then going to our house to building it. We definitely were able to build a house much nicer than we would have been able to buy! I would say just make sure you know what you are getting into. Be prepared for contractors to delay their work, make sure you have the proper permits, order items ahead so that you make sure they are there when you need them and understand all the choices you will have to make for your house. Building your own house is totally different than someone doing it for you, you have to choose everything down to the trim on your walls. It can be overwhelming sometimes. Good Luck!

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