Here are just a few do’s and don’ts to consider before building a home. There are of course many more, but these will get you on the right path in planning to build a home.
Do Research to learn about the construction before you talk to a contractor. Research building materials, building techniques, the process of construction, and spend time at a few home building sites to observe the process.
Don’t be a know-it-all with the contractor you intend to use. He’s the expert, but you should understand a little about what he is going to do, and be clear about what you want in a home. When discussing materials, make sure he understands your standards. If he suggests a material or process you had not researched, tell him you had not heard about it. Let him tell you all he can, and then go home and do more research.
Do have a clear idea of what you want before you visit a contractor. Keep a journal of ideas you like, and house plans you prefer. Then create a master idea, incorporating all the little ideas, until you have a definite plan of exactly what you want your home to be.
Don’t be completely inflexible about your ideas. When speaking with the contractor, he may see a way to get most of what you want for a lot cheaper! He may also have an even better idea. Listen to what he suggests, but if something is important to you, politely tell him you want to stick with your plans.
Do visit your home builder, before buying land or hiring an architect. The builder may already have a home plan that will work with your design, with just a few changes. Buy land as part of your construction loan, and get your homebuilder to approve it first. The only exception to this rule is a high budget, luxury home. With those you will want to choose your own architect in order to get a home of architectural significance. In general, with lower budget homes, the home builder finds any architectural help you might need, but with an expensive luxury home the architect is more important. It may cost and extra $50,000 or more to do it that way, but it is worth it if you have the budget for it.
Do thorough research on alternative green materials. Consider insulated concrete panels, Ferro-cement, rammed earth, salvaged materials, incorporating shipping containers and the principles of extreme green architecture. Even if you don’t decide to build this type of home, it is a good idea to be aware of your options, and perhaps include a green feature or two.
Don’t build with alternative materials until you have completely established that they will work in your climate. For example adobe works great in the dry climates of the Western U.S. but it doesn’t work in humid rainy climates. A similar effect can be gained with Ferro Cement or even Insulated Concrete panels however.
Don’t cut corners on quality of materials. Always go with the strongest, most durable option. In my opinion, that would be either 2-inch by 6-inch framing, timber-frame, logs, insulated concrete panels or Ferro-cement applied by an experienced craftsman, who may incorporate pumice stone. These materials will work in any location. There are other options which work well in some climates but not in others. There is one other material that I know to be especially durable in all climates. Coquina rock is a very enduring historically used material, which one might consider, especially for a home at the beach or in a very damp climate. It can either be laid as stone or used as an aggregate in cement. This stone is known to be tremendously durable. Homes built of Coquina have stood for over 400 years in Florida where wooden homes of the same age have rotted away. It is also used in sea walls. It’s not commonly used today, but it can be purchased. If you are planning to build a home in a wet climate, Coquina would be worth looking into.
Do take an active role in the building of your home. Hiring a contractor is vital to the process, but it is a good idea to visit your own construction site frequently to insure your wishes were understood and that plans are carried out correctly. It is especially important to go out when the foundations are poured, during the framing process and when insulation is added. Hopefully, that will be the only time you ever see your studs and wall insulation. Once it is sealed between the drywall and the exterior siding it’s too late to inspect the craftsmanship. Most of the horror stories of disgruntled home owners would have been averted if they had done these few simple things.
Do not be rude or bossy with the crew when you visit. Instead bring pitchers of cold lemonade, or tea, or a cooler full of sodas and bottled water. Be nice to your building crew, and they will do an even better job for you because they like you. Don’t make them feel you are just checking up on their work, even though that’s exactly what you are doing. Also remember that they are like special guests in your home, and you should treat them hospitably. Feel free to ask questions about things, but never argue with the crew. If you take issue with anything you see, call your contractor immediately and address your concerns politely but firmly.
Don’t be absent from the jobsite for more than a week at a time. Always maintain a presence. Always appear interested, excited and curious about what the workers are doing. You don’t have to stay long. A half hour is sufficient, and staying much longer will cause delays and interrupt their work. Just come by and give them a break to get a drink while you look around, and chat with them.