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  1. #1
    Contributing Member MXtras's Avatar
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    Arrow New Home Construction - the do's and don'ts thread

    Looking into building a new home. Nothing fancy - just spacious and functional.

    I have designed the floorplan and I am in the process of shrinking things down just a little - I got carried away and ended up with more square footage than I can afford. I will design as far as I can and then run the plans by a PE before the detailing begins. Long way to go on that.

    I am estimating my build costs to be between $75-$85 per SqFt. I think this is reasonable - am I off base? I will be doing nearly all of the construction. I will farm out the foundation, drywall, siding and roofing. Other than that I plan to frame, plumb, wire and all that happy stuff myself (with a host of construction-proficient buddies, of course).

    SO - if you have any tips for things to avoid or just have general comments, post 'em.

    I will use this thread as a chronology of my efforts. I hope this project makes it through to completion - it's a long road.

    Scott
    If it wasn't for the last minute I wouldn't get anything done

  2. #2
    Administrator Cebby's Avatar
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    Re: New Home Construction - the do's and don'ts thread

    Subscribed...
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  3. #3
    Registered User Glenn's Avatar
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    Re: New Home Construction - the do's and don'ts thread

    OK, I am going to do this a little at a time. There is much to share.

    1. Who is physically building the house?

    First and foremost, make the decision on whether or not you are going to build the house, you are going to be the general contractor and sub it out, or you are are going to have a house built. Those are 3 VERY different things.

    If you intend to build it yourself physically:
    Plan to not have a job or not have a house for a long time. I would highly suggest doing as many favors for friends before hand so they owe you. LOL! I have done 99% of my house alone and it is not easy. If you are forced to work alone (because you are like me and have no friends) buy a lot of those quick clamps. LOL!

    If you intend to be the general contractor and sub it all/most out:
    You are going to need to find the subs. I have been fortunate enough that the few I have used, came to me looking for work. (There are almost always things you can't do, or things not worth buying the equipment for.) A good place to find subs is through your outside sales person at the supply house. (More on that later.) When you start to locate subs, ask to see the license and insurance info. Once you hire them, ask them for copies of the info and call their insurance company for verification. (More on insurance later.) You can also talk to the county/city permitting offices about contractors.

    If you are going to do some of the work and sub out some of the work, make sure to know where to draw the line. Meaning for example, I had intended to hang all of my own drywall and pay a company to mud and tape (I hate drywall!) The 3 companies I have talked to about quotes so far (I am not at the drywall stage yet) have told me that I will get a better rate to let them hang it too. In fact, one guy said he would charge me the same either way. Reason being is that they can not control the hang job and may have to work harder to tape and mud than what they are used to. (They do not know that I am anally retentive and that the drywall hang would be so great they may not need tape and mud. LOL!) So unless you are going to do a stage of the project start to finish, talk to your sub and see what, if any, issues you may cause.

    If you are going to have the house built:
    This then becomes mostly finding a builder you can trust. It is a lot like finding subs in that you have to research your area and get references. Not just from the builder either as they will not give you the names of unhappy people. Find out where they buy their materials and go talk to the sales guy. Ask around to other contractors. Ask the builder where he is currently building and if you can go see the "quality" of his work. Show up there unannounced and talk to the employees. You will get a feel for how the boss is. You can also talk to the county/city permitting offices about builders.

    Something to remember here: Some builders will not do custom homes. You have to choose one of their plans. This has benefits though. Usually lower cost per square and you don't have to pay architect/engineering fees.

    Once you find your builder, your job is done and you just have to sit back and let it happen... NOT! There is still much to do! If you have to or choose to have one of their houses built, most will give you only a few choices. Things like color of carpet, counter tops, cabinets, etc.. But they will only give you a few choices for each. They also usually give you a ridiculously low budget (like $600) and tell you to go pick your lighting. (Some may even tell you where you HAVE to shop for lighting. Not so common but it happens. They did this to my parents. My mom wanted this really nice fixture for over the dining room table and only had a $400 spending limit. They did not have any additional money to put in so they bought the fixture and the rest of the house got single bulb incandescent fixtures until they could afford to swap them.)

    The one biggest piece of advice I can give if you chose to have the house built is to KNOW WHAT YOU WANT! Every time you change something, after the contract has been signed, warrants a change order. A friend of mine had a house built a few years back and his wife kept changing things. (I don't mean things they had already done, rather giving them plenty of notice.) In the end, they owed an additional $40,000 in change orders and associated costs!! So be careful and don't let the wife talk to the builder directly!


    2. Pick your plans carefully!

    I found plans that I liked (with a few minor exceptions) on an internet plans site. I ordered them and paid a little extra for the copy on velum so they could be modified.

    I then found out they had to be redrawn and engineered for Florida. (Hurricane Codes)

    I hired a architect to redraw the plans, not knowing they would then have to be engineered by yet another party.

    I learned that I could have saved a lot of money. I do not mind that I bought the plans from the internet. The original designer deserved the money as it was his design. But I could have taken them right to the engineer and had them draft the new copy with the changes I made and then they would have engineered them at the same time. Would have saved me about $1500.

    Now this may not apply to the area where you intend to live. You will need to check with the building department.


    3. Are you married? Want to stay that way?

    I have been told on multiple occasions that building a home can be one of the most taxing things on a marriage. My wife and I have not had many issues, if any at all, with our project. I think the reason is that we took a full year and talked it to death. We kept an online notepad that allowed us to post things as we thought of them and then comment on each others comments. It ironed out a lot of details.

    My personal advice is to make sure you are open minded and always remember... It is her house, not yours. LOL!

    MORE TO COME!
    Last edited by Glenn; 05-19-2009 at 11:06 PM.
    Glenn H. Shelton III
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  4. #4
    Contributing Member MXtras's Avatar
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    Single VS Two story construction costs

    Up until a few hours ago, I was pretty set on a single level home.

    I was discussing things with a buddy when he suggested that a two story structure would cost less to buiild than a single story of comparable size.

    His logic makes sense and there must be truth to it because the floor and roof structure costs are a substantial portion of the construction cost of a new home. Secondly - it true that you hardly see any Ranch style homes any more - at least not in my travels.

    My thought was that the cost of the second story floor joists would add tremendously to the cost but that's not really true - you are using the same floor support system it's just above another floor instead of being above the crawl space, and the roof structure is covering both floors instead of just one. Your foundation becomes smaller, too.

    It really makes sense when you think about which I had not done until today. I never gave it all that much thought until I began looking at construction costs for my layout.

    Scott
    If it wasn't for the last minute I wouldn't get anything done

  5. #5

    Re: New Home Construction - the do's and don'ts thread

    Hey Scott,

    You'll enjoy the process, if our home experience is any example. Though, true to form, I expect you'll do much more of it than we did!

    I agree with the 2-story topic- the overall size of the roof is half that of a single -story house of the same sq footage, assuming that both the top and lower story are roughly equal in size and aligned over each other. The cost per foot of roofing, including the trusses, is non-trivial.

    I am a little surprised about the estimated sq foot price. I guess your estimate includes your labor (as opposed to subbing most things out), but as a reference, new construction in the NoVA area is typically $200-350 a foot for most custom houses. If you come in at your estimate, you'll be creating tremendous sweat equity in the house!

    I'm guessing you've already thought about this, but siting a house is pretty important- we spent some time on our lot trying to understand the microclimate, and sited (and designed!) our house accordingly. For example, in our case, the prevailing winds (and hence most weather) come from the west-southwest, so we designed and placed the house to have the least windows and openings on that side, to minimize heat gain/loss. We designed in an enclosed veranda (think of it as a deck that was enclosed) on the lee side of the house, so we can use it 3 seasons. We also sited the house with solar gain in mind, not just with lots of south-facing glass, but also oriented, and with an appropriate roof angle, so that we could one day add solar panels to the house when they began to make sense financially (and that time is getting closer every day, IMO).

    Don't skimp on insulation, including especially windows and doors. We used blown-in cellulose, and are happy with it. One thing our builder surprised us was by using fiberglass batts around each of the bathrooms, in the interior walls. He said it tended to muffle sounds, which it does.

    Plan for adequate electrical service. We have 400 amp service, and are using up the breaker space in the panels (for stuff like welders, air compressors, well pumps, etc). You can never have enough power.

    As you age, you will need more light- believe it. It is so much cheaper to add light fixtures during construction, and you don't have to populate them all at once. For example, we have wired outlets for ceiling (fans and) lights in all of our bedrooms. though they don't have the actual fixtures there yet. We actually have 85 can-style ceiling lights in the house. I will enjoy them more when affordable LED lamps are available for them, though.

    You'll probably blow through your estimate for fixtures- at least we did, by a factor of 2.

    Things we'd change if we were doing it again, include insisting on using geothermal heat and cooling (instead of the very efficient gas furnaces we do have), even more insulation everywhere, and less carpet and more wood or tile flooring.

    Please keep us apprised of your progress, and good luck!

    -Will

  6. #6

    Re: New Home Construction - the do's and don'ts thread

    Another thing we did was run two water heaters in series, to serve the entire house. The first one heats the incoming water to around 90 degrees, and the second brings it up the remaining 40-50 degrees. We have never run out of how water, even when filling the jet tub (takes about 70 gals, IIRC).

    Now, I might take a harder look at the tankless water heaters and locate them nearer the main hot water use points.

    Just a data point...

    -Will

  7. #7
    Contributing Member MXtras's Avatar
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    Re: New Home Construction - the do's and don'ts thread

    I think the earlier estimate was a bit low but I do not expect to exceed $120/SqFt. I am sure I could splurge and drive up the cost but for the most part, the home will be "contractor" quality. I want/need space - it doesn't have to be fancy.

    I have several properties on the radar and I have a 'not to exceed' budget. If I end up with a huge chunk of land, I will design for future expansion but I will not be able to afford a big house. If I get a smaller property, I can possibly have a larger home but there are issues.

    The 25 acres I am looking at already has a large shop, a deep well and a septic system but the price is a little higher than I would really like. The smaller properties I have my eye on are not cleared so I would have to have the well and septic installed (provided it will perc) in addition to clearing the land and building a shop and driveway. I have to have a shop - 1500SqFt minimum.

    There is definately a trade off and my wife and I continue to discuss the options. I have done nothing on the house plans - I need to nail down the property and go from there. We may end up just buying a modular home - who knows at this point, but I think we will get more house if we build ourselves. The more we investigate, the more discouraged we become. It's a long, inconvenient, expensive road.

    At this point, we plan to secure the property and put a trailer on it for the time being, then build the following year. That's the plan but that's likely to change.

    I am still in process of preparing our current hut for market. I spent the weekend repairing the shed that was struck by lightning a few years ago. I have parsed my garage (found some neat stuff I had forgotten I had!) and packed most of it for transfer to the shed. Another week of moving/disposal/consolidation and I will be able to get back to work on increasing the curb appeal of the hut.

    I am thinking two to three more weeks and we will go to market. Hell - it might take 6 months or more to sell. Who knows. All I know at this point is that we are due for a change.

    Scott
    Last edited by MXtras; 09-03-2008 at 03:11 PM.
    If it wasn't for the last minute I wouldn't get anything done

  8. #8

    Re: New Home Construction - the do's and don'ts thread

    Putting a trailer on the lot while you build is a great idea. You lose no commuting time from where you are living to the house project, and you have far better security than if the property were unoccupied.

    Used trailers are quite inexpensive, and probably don't lose much value over the year or two you might take to finish enough to move into the new house. And while you won't be living in the Taj Mahal during that time, the prize is just outside in case you forget why you are sacrificing right now.

    I don't know if your situation works for this, but we bought our lot with a home equity loan. When we sold the house (which we'd owned for almost a decade), we didn't end up with much cash out (less than we'd put down to buy it), but the lot was paid off. That was important to us, since it is typically difficult to get a construction loan (assuming you will need one) unless the land is owned outright. Doing it this way made it easier to act on the right land opportunity, even while living in the house we were planning to sell when we found the lot we wanted.

    As to the septic, I don't have to tell you that you should have a contingency on the lot purchase that it will perc, and for at least 4 bedrooms (no matter how many you are planning right now).

    Good luck!

    -Will

  9. #9
    Contributing Member MXtras's Avatar
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    Re: New Home Construction - the do's and don'ts thread

    Quote Originally Posted by BoostAddiction View Post
    Another thing we did was run two water heaters in series, to serve the entire house. The first one heats the incoming water to around 90 degrees, and the second brings it up the remaining 40-50 degrees. -Will
    What's the advantage? Does this save energy or just ensure you have plenty of hot water?

    Scott
    If it wasn't for the last minute I wouldn't get anything done

  10. #10

    Re: New Home Construction - the do's and don'ts thread

    Quote Originally Posted by MXtras View Post
    What's the advantage? Does this save energy or just ensure you have plenty of hot water?

    Scott
    The idea was both...we were going to have two anyway, one for each floor, but running them in series means that we never run out of hot water even when we fill the jet tub, and each one works less hard in that the the temp delta is smaller than it would be for heating cold water to 140 or so, so we think we are saving energy as well (compared to the alternative of two standalone heaters, each dedicated to one floor).

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