Helpful tips and questions to think about before you start your new home build or remodel.
After flipping a few homes, building one, and years of remodeling on our current home; I’ve learned a lot about what to expect when hiring contractors. There’s always something I wish I had done differently. And an endless mental list of things to avoid the next time. S0, I thought it was time to start getting some of these things down in writing. And hey, maybe these tips for building a new home or planning a remodel will help you guys too!
At least I hope they help. 🙂 But, I have to say, no build or remodel will ever be perfect. But what is? Right. Try to relax and be happy with getting what’s most important and in your budget. Let’s get to this huge list of Tips for Building a New Home or Planning a Remodel.
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General Notes – Tips for Building a New Home
- First, think about how long you think it might take to do the job. Now how much do you think someone might charge? Get a pretty clear idea. Now, double both of those! You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s true. These things always take longer than you’d think. Labor cost money. AND HGTV understates the numbers on remodels all the time. Sorry, guys. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. But it’s true.
- Another thing to brace for during a remodel….living in a construction site is tough! Eating out, feeling like you always have house guests to tiptoe around, keeping the kids happy in a smaller space. It’s all uncomfortable and there’s awkward stuff, galore. Or you could move out temporarily…but that’s tough too and you’ll need to visit often to make sure everything is on track.
- If you’re building a new house, it will look finished from the outside months before the interior is ready. Trim and finish work takes time. Lots and lots of time. 😉
- Like I said in the intro, you’ll always wish something was different. No space or budget can accommodate every item on a wish list. Especially when Pinterest keeps showing you so many amazing ideas you can’t live without. You can follow me on Pinterest to see some of my favorite home design ideas.
- How much maintenance will the materials/appliances your picking require? Plan for the amount of maintenance you can handle. Example, brick requires very little upkeep, but painted siding needs to be washed and repainted from time to time. And a stained front door will require more frequent maintenance than a painted one. Paint is more resistant to fading and cracking than paint. If you have a stained door, check out my tips for restoring the finish in less than a day.
- Will you sell in the next 5 years? You may want to control the budget a bit more if you won’t see a return on that money in 5 years.
- On that same topic, you don’t want to have the most expensive house on the block. Being somewhere in the middle will make it easier to sell for top dollar.
- Your builder/contractor may need you to make decisions quickly. It will take some to a lot of your free time, depending on the build stage. So, make sure you’re lifestyle can handle it at that time. Kids, parents, or jobs may keep you too busy.
- Make a list of what is a necessity and what is a wish list item. Remember, you aren’t likely to get everything on that list. But you can decide what’s most important and aim for that.
- What can you do yourself, later? If you’re comfortable doing millwork, DIY, or landscaping; there may be some big ticket items you can knock off the budget for later. For example, crown molding, wainscoting, closet storage systems, landscaping, or built-in cabinets. But don’t put an unrealistic amount on your plate. You still have to work and have a life. 😉 You can find the DIY’s for Board and Batten Wainscoting and the Tray Ceiling Paneling I installed in our Master here.
- This might be a picky one that most people don’t care about. But someone out there might really appreciate this, so I’ll include it. My Dad is a contractor in Ohio, he pointed this out to me. In Houston, homes have vent pipes sticking out of the roof in the front and back of the house. No one seems to mind adding another hole to the roof, or where it goes. In Ohio, contractors have to try to keep all pipes on the back of the house and they try to tie the venting into an existing roof vent to minimize the holes in the roof. This may vary from city to city. If it would bother you, talk to your contractor about options.
Watch out For These Issues – Tips for Building a New Home
- Some parts of the US don’t require home building inspections to make sure the latest codes and regulations are followed. The county I live in doesn’t. So, you really need to trust your builder in these areas.
- Is Walmart going up next door? We passed on a house that had a huge farm behind it. The property is surrounded by land that is being snatched up by developers. We didn’t want to end up with a home that could one day be behind a Walmart, strip mall, office space, etc.
- How are the neighbors? How close are they? Do they have kids or teens? Would your family be comfortable there? Same goes for the look of the neighborhood. Are the houses maintained? Are there things you need or might want, like trees, parks, sidewalks, bike paths, etc.
- Is there an HOA? Check those rules and fees.
- Flooding. We live in Houston. Flooding is a yearly issue in this city. And every year people that had never flooded before, are flooded. Make sure your house is well above the flood plane, if near water or in cities with drainage issues.
Energy Savings, Efficiency, and Special Items – Tips for Building a New Home
- Want to use certain energy efficient products, like Solar Panels or Grey Water Systems? Does the HOA have rules about them? Where will they go?
- Make sure Energy Efficient appliances, insulation, doors, and windows are used. If your city doesn’t require these materials in new construction, you may need to specify them. You don’t want to pay for single-pane windows in places that get extreme weather.
- Make sure your insulation is a good R-value too. It’ll save you money in the long run. Don’t forget attic insulation.
- Do you want special materials used, like low VOC paints, carpets, etc? Make sure to clear that with your contractor before hiring them.
- Do you need a special air quality filter?
- Is Geothermal Heating an option for you?
- Do you need in floor heating in bathrooms or under all tile floors?
Picking Floor Plans and Layout – Tips for Building a New Home
- Where will the bedrooms be? Upstairs or downstairs? Guest room next to Master Bedroom, kids rooms, or by itself? We have 2 up and 2 down right now, which is great for our 2 kid family. Our preschoolers share a room downstairs next to us. Any house guests get privacy upstairs. When the boys are older, they can take over the upstairs and the guests will move downstairs. But I can see how having the 2 downstairs rooms separated would be better. Guests or live-in parents would have even more privacy.
- Do you really need a formal Living Room? Formal Dining Room? Table, table, table…my husband gets annoyed that we have a breakfast table 10-feet away from a Dining Room table, then just outside the kitchen is an outdoor eating area. Not to mention the island with 3 bar stools in the mix. But hey, we can easily seat 20. 😉
- Where will the powder room be? Near the Living Room, in the middle of where everyone will be? In the Laundry? Down a hall?
- Pick a great working place for a Laundry Room and Mudroom too. Should the Laundry be downstairs/upstairs, near a bedroom, or in a bedroom closet?
- Make sure you don’t have to carry your groceries too far either. That 3rd, 4th, and 5th arm full will be easier.
- Think about door swing and how you’ll actually use a room. I removed the door between our Laundry Room and Kitchen because you had to walk around that wide door to get to the Powder Room. It didn’t make any sense.
- Plan for storage – shelves, closets, drawers. How will you use it? This year and in 10 years. What about bedroom closets? You want enough storage for long coats and dresses, shirts and folded items.
- Where are you storing your cleaning supplies? Do you need tall storage or closet space for brooms, steam mops, vacuum, etc.?
- How about pet food and supply storage? Where will bowls go, cages, beds, or the litter box?
- Does your family need a 2nd Fridge or Freezer? Where will that go? The garage is often used, but the fridge will run a lot more in a hot garage.
- Open-concept is great, but too much of a good thing… Our Kitchen, Foyer, Dining Room, Living Room, Office, and Game Room are all open to each other. It gets so loud in here with little kids, guys. I have to say, closing off the Game Room and the Office are on my mile-long to-do list. 🙂
- Will the new house or space be big enough or even too big? Draw it up, if possible. Seriously, tape together a couple sheets of graph paper, break out the ruler, and draw it up. Put in the exact dimensions for furniture and see if it will actually work.
- Do you need a storm/safe room or secret storage space?
- Do you want high ceilings, Tray or Vaulted Ceilings?
Working with a Contractor – Tips for Building a New Home
- Pick a builder with a good reputation and work history. You want a person you can see dealing with for months and you don’t want to worry that he’ll go bankrupt mid-build.
- How long does it take to get a reply from a contractor? I always pass on a contractor that takes a long time to reply to questions before they’re even hired.
- Listen to the contractors ideas, they have loads of experience. But you have to live there. Stand up for what you really want.
- Any change or work stoppage could cause a delay. Your contractor has to keep his guys working. So, an unexpected delay on your job may mean he has to send his crew to another job for a few days or weeks before he can leave that job to come back to yours. So, try to not change big things mid-build unless they are important.
- Make sure the included items and any extra items are spelled out in any contract. You can’t be too specific. Just include everything. The contract may require you to supply certain materials like lighting, faucets, or tile. Or it could specify a budget for those items, that you pick and the contractor buys.
Outdoors & Garage – Tips for Building a New Home
- Do you want finished drywall in the garage? Storage too?
- Plan that Outdoor Dining, Grilling, and Entertaining Spaces the same as the interior. Plan out how you will use the space, what furniture you need, and draw it up to make sure it all fits.
- Make sure to get hose faucets and electrical outlets where you need them outside the house.
- Might as well get that sprinkler system installed before you have a lawn, if needed.
- Are outdoor speakers, security lights, or landscape lighting on the wish list? Get the wiring done while the electrician is there.
- Do you need a pet washing station in the garage or yard?
- This is one of my personal pet peeves, but please check tree and bush heights before planting them next to your house. You don’t want to constantly have trimming issues with a tree touching your roof. Or it’s roots damaging your foundation.
Kitchen & Bath – Tips for Building a New Home
- Floor tile… under cabinets or against. This can be a hotly debated issue, folks. I’m personally on the side of installing the cabinets, then the tile around it, for many reasons. But to each their own. 😉 I didn’t insist on it for our kitchen remodel and I still regret it. In fact, I just shared my easy DIY for caulking the gap between the cabinets and the floor.
- Go for the thinnest grout line possible. Grout cleaning is a pain. When it gets really bad you can fix it with my favorite grout renewer, but the less grout the prettier the room looks anyway.
- Where will the counter top material go? Window sill? What type of material? I like the maintenance free quartz these days.
- Water closets in a Master Bath are great for privacy and a little mystery in a marriage. 😉
- Where are you hanging towels near showers? Plan ahead for bars on shower doors or bathroom walls.
- Make sure all drawers and cabinet doors can fully open with your kitchen layout and appliances. The dishwasher I picked for this house had a big handle that blocked one of the drawers in the old kitchen. Oops.
- Speaking of Dishwashers, which side of the sink works best. Before our remodel, our dishwasher was on the wrong side. When it was open, I couldn’t reach any of the dish storage cabinets. So, I had to unload the dishes onto the counter, then close the dishwasher and put them away.
- Where will that garbage/recycling storage go? You might not want a can taking up floor space.
- Where will you hang hand towels in the kitchen and bathrooms?
- Vanities or pedestal sinks in bathrooms? Make sure you know what the contract calls for in a Powder Room. If you don’t want a pedestal sink, specify that.
- What will be the quality of the plumbing fixtures, tile, and countertops be? Get specific on the budget or contract.
- Do you want over, in, or under cabinet lighting?
- Gas Stove or Electric?
- Do you want a Pot Filler?
- Where will everything go in your kitchen? Food storage? Small appliances? Seasonal dishes and linens? Drink Station? Kids Crafts? Plastic Containers? I have a full post about how I divided my kitchen up into ‘work stations’ to fit our families needs.
Plumbing, Electrical, & Other Mechanics – Tips for Building a New Home
- Pick where you want every fan, light fixture and recessed light. You don’t want dark rooms. You might want to pick them before hand too. But don’t buy. Your contractor may be able to get you the same thing cheaper or a similar and higher quality option.
- Thermostat location, location, location. Sometimes these things end up in the middle of a wall you want to hang art on. Or it’s in the hallway between the 2 bedrooms it’s supposed to be cooling, like at my house. Then when you close the doors at night, the thermostat has no way of knowing how hot your bedroom gets at night. Yikes. 😉
- If you can, avoid our Water Heater woos…All 3 showers on 1 water heater. Normally not a big deal, but when we have a house full of guests, you’re guaranteed to get a cold shower.
- Where is the electrical box going? It can be annoying to have contractors in and out of your house to try to figure out which switch they need to shut off. So, plan the best place for yours; garage, outdoor utility closet, laundry room, etc.
- Does your closet need a vent or outlet? We have vents in our Master Closets, but not the upstairs closets. They get really hot in the summer, with the door closed.
- Where do you need tech chargers? In the kitchen Island for kids that do homework there, near desks, or where you’ll keep your keys?
- Do you want a wired in security system? Where will the controls and components go? Do you need to have any wiring done before drywall is installed?
- Same with in wall speaker systems, audio components, and all of those high tech smart home items.
- Request to have washer and dryer outlets and water taps below the level of the washer and dryer. I ended up hiding mine with my DIY Laundry Table.
- And, did you know you can set those huge dryer vent pipes inside the wall? You just need a Recessed Dryer Vent Box. That way your dryer won’t have to be so far away from the wall. But, you’re contractor will need to make sure the vent to the outside is right behind the dryer location. My vent is to the right of the dryer, so it crosses a stud in the wall. That means, I can’t use that recessed vent pipe without changing the location of the vent in our exterior brick wall.
- Do you need standard outlets or 220v wiring in the garage for tools? Plan storage and charging in the garage beforehand.
- Do you want motion-activated lights in the pantry, closets, garage or outdoors?
- What about generator wiring, storage for the generator, and a planned place to use it when the power is out?
- Do you need outlets for Holiday Lights or Patio Lights outside?
- Do you need wiring or a gas line for a future outdoor kitchen?
- What about gas lights? If you have a high end home and want this look, you can get gas lines installed. OR try these cool flame effect bulbs, that I use and love.
Interior Design Notes – Tips for Building a New Home
- Know exactly what you want before you start building or remodeling. Find inspiration pictures, draw up a sketch, pick colors and products. It’ll save you time, money, and stress to have a clear goal.
- This may be controversial, but just say no to medium beige. It’s like that comfort food you always regret later. I went for it as a neutral in our home for our living room furniture, lamp shades, blankets, etc. It is so boring and always makes a room look kinda drab and dull. Even when I introduce color and fun decor items. The medium beige just brings the room down. Sorry, medium beige, it’s not your fault. A soft grey, cream, or even a light beige would have worked so much better.
- Some materials take weeks even months to come in. Plan ahead! Seriously, tile, appliances, and light fixtures might have a 2 or 3 month lead time. So start picking those things out early, folks.
- Don’t forget to get plenty of windows. Natural light makes any home feel better.
- Think about materials on porch ceilings. I’m finally adding tongue and groove planks to our back porch ceilings. The builder used cheap plywood on ours. It turned what should have been a feature into an eyesore.
- To texture or not to texture, that is the question. Wall texture seems to be a regional thing in the US. I am a huge fan of smooth walls and ceilings. But some people prefer texture. Make sure you specify your preference in the contract.
- Same goes for rounded or squared corners on walls and window frames.
- Specify the trim you’re getting too. If you like a big chunky baseboard or crown moulding. You need to work that out with your contractor before hand.
- Is window trim included in your contract? If you want just a lower sill or full trim around windows, talk to your contractor.
- Barn doors are cool, but does it make sense? I love a good barn door, folks. But they aren’t as sound proof or private as a standard door. So, it might not be the best option on every room (ex. bathrooms and laundry rooms).
- What type of doors will be used, interior and exterior? You should pick out the style that you prefer beforehand to avoid finding a style you hate hanging everywhere later.
- You won’t always want the same design as your spouse. Try to figure out a fair way to work things out and prepare to compromise. 🙂
- And, If you want hallway guidelights, they make really cool screw-on outlet covers that don’t require any wiring now.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I hope these Tips for Building a New Home and Planning a Remodel helped. If you can think of some more tips I should add to the list, I’d love to hear them. Comment below with any great tips I’ll keep adding to this list as I think of new tips!
Check out these Room Reveals for more Ideas, Tips, and Inspiration
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