I’ve seen a lot of great ideas people have when building or renovating a home over the years. I’ve seen more cases where we wished the original builder would have thought ahead and done something differently. I’m going to try to keep this brief but history has taught us that probably won’t be the case. Here are some little things you can do when you are building that are either smart ideas or much easier when you are originally building than after the fact.
I love this simple idea. You can install a manifold after where your main waterline enters the house. The part costs about $200 and takes no more time to install. This gives you shut offs to all of the fixtures right in the utility room. This lets you quickly turn off the water to a part of the home in an emergency. It also acts as a backup to any shut off valves that maybe stuck open through out the home.
Have a little think about any doors you might like to be pocket doors now. In some places it is possible to add them after the fact but it is a big job. Consider tight spaces were two doors are in close proximity for a pocket door. Also any door that you think will generally be open like a pantry or laundry room is a good candidate for a pocket door.
Snow pile drain
If you live in a spot where you get a lot of snow and will end up plowing it all into one spot then consider putting a drain there. This is especially important if your lot layout means you have to pile snow where the melt will drain down toward your home or another structure. It doesn’t have to be fancy it could just be a hole filled with gravel and perhaps connected to a French drain. Personally this is something I wish we had since the melting snow causes water to flow down the length of the driveway during the day and then refreezes every night.
Waterproof the underside of a deck
Who wouldn’t want a covered outdoor space or essentially a shed for a few hundred dollars? If you water proof the underside of your deck you could get one of these things or maybe even both. This usually can be done any time but can be ascetically built into a deck at the time of building. There are a few ways to do it but the most common is to install solid soffit on a slight angle so it drains into a rain gutter on one side and a down spout. With a hatch on one side you can basically have a shed under a lower deck or create a rainy day sitting space under an upper deck.
Cut back on windows that open
I love me a bunch of windows in a house. But… they are expensive and even the best windows will have a low insulation value (r-value) compared to the walls of your home. Certain rooms like bedrooms require egress windows that open in case of fire. You might also want windows that open in bathrooms and kitchens because of smells.
After that consider ordering fixed pane windows for areas of your home where you probably won’t open them. Fixed pane windows are more secure, cheaper and have a higher r-value than ones that open. I suggest you invest your savings into well made triple pane windows over double pane to reduce your ongoing energy costs. At our house all of the windows are double casements and truthfully each one only needs to open on one side. Some don’t need to open at all.
Solar panels, new windows and siding are all great in terms of energy efficiency but nothing will compare to humble old insulation. Build your walls at least 2×6 to make room for more R-value even if the code doesn’t demand it. Add double the super cheap blown in to your attic from the start. Put high density foam under and around your foundation too. “Whatever it costs, just do it” should be your motto when it comes to insulating your new home.
You will make your extra investment back from insulation faster than any other green product. It’s not as easy to add it after the fact so when you’re building go wild!
Insulated concrete form (ICF) is an alternative building method that uses concrete filled foam blocks rather than wood framing with traditional insulation. Building with ICF has many advantages like an incredible insulation value, structural strength, quieter to live in, free from bugs and it is faster too. In the past ICF was more expensive to build over traditional construction but with ongoing energy costs you would break even and profit in the long run. After covid it is closer to on par cost wise and maybe even cheaper at some points. It is also faster.
Building an ICF house essentially turns your house into a storm shelter too. The structure can certainly withstand hurricanes and many tornados and are not complete right offs even after heavy flooding. ICF structures can be built to withstand winds up to 250 mph which is equivalent to a category 5 tornado. Remember that one house right on the beach in Florida still standing in the rubble after a category 4 hurricane? That was an ICF house!
Install a double door somewhere
Consider finding a spot on the main floor of your home to install a double patio door with a break away center post. Even if you have a 36” door certain things are hard to get in and out of your house. Fridges, freezers, sofas and other large things can be a pain to get into your house through a traditional door.
Put in a cistern
About 40% of homes in North America use wells for water and a septic system for waste. Honey always advocates for putting in a cistern these days even if you never plan to use it. When you are digging your foundation, septic system or doing your landscaping installing a tank in the ground literally is just the cost of the tank.
You don’t ver have to use it but it will be there if you already and you can hook it up to the rain gutters or even pay to have it filled. 10 years ago we never would have wanted one but with more drought summers I wish I had that peace of mind.
I just F’n love these things! I dream of a toilet free of nooks and crannies that I can just run a mop underneath. Unlike a traditional toilet the water line and drain must come from the wall instead of the floor. That means it is almost impossible to retrofit an existing toilet into a wall mount with out gutting the wall and the plumbing. They are more expensive but this is your one good chance!
Consider multiple furniture layouts for bedrooms
We all get tired of the same old thing after a while. You probably thought to add an outlet for charging on either side of the bed but… consider alternative furniture layouts too. Women and teens love to change it up every few years. If your bedrooms will be big enough to allow for multiple bed placements plan for some outlets there too.
Add ditra under kitchen tiles
This is specific to kitchens on slabs or for people with lower leg joint issues. Pretty much the only room of your house that you stand in for hours is the kitchen. Other than that we are generally sitting, laying down or passing through. Tile on concrete is brutal once you stand on it for about an hour. After cooking thanksgiving dinner you’ll end up with joint and back pain.
I had this at my condo and it was literally the worst. If you have this situation at home wearing good athletic sneakers can help. There is a product called ditra which is a tile underlayment which can really help. It’s usually orange and it has lots of plastic raised dimples (sort of like bubble wrap) that gives a little under tile. It’s used in certain applications but isn’t totally necessary under others. Have your builder add it under your kitchen tile to help minimize the aches and pains that come from standing on a hard floor. You can either add a transition or 1/4 plywood to the rest of the floors to keep it all even.
Add egress windows to the basement
Swapping out a window for a different size isn’t that hard in wood but it gets a lot harder in concrete. Add a couple of egress sized windows to your basement when you build because you never know. You might have a teenager, adult child or aging parent with you in the future and want to put a bedroom down there in a few years.
Converting a basement to an income suite is a pretty popular renovation that can make a lot of sense. By adding a window or two down there now you keep that option open if you ever want to.
Install wiring for overhead lights
Do you hate overhead lights and fans or love them? Whatever you think the other half of the world totally disagree. Honey is forever taking them out for one person and adding them for the next. I suggest putting the wires in for them in the center of every room from the start along with the box. This might be controversial but if you don’t hook them up you’ll have a white cover in the center of your ceiling.
As we get older our eyesight changes and we might want more light. What I’ve found is that now that we have empty bedrooms we use them differently. You might end up using a room as an office, sewing or hobby room or reading room. You might end up with a child that sleeps better with a fan on. I think it’s worth the ugly cover to have that option.
Extra space in the utility room
I’m generally an advocate for not building more house than you really need. But… plan to build yourself a roomy and luxurious utility room. Things like your hot water tank, HVAC system, furnace and pump will go and have to be replaced over time. It sucks to do that work in not enough space. You also don’t want to be restricted from upgrades just because there isn’t enough space.
Years ago we didn’t think about water systems, UV lights, security panels and UPS transfer switches. Chances are the next 20 years will bring new home systems you might want as well. Plan for the future and give yourself some extra space in your utility room.
Upsize your panel
We’ve never added on to our house or built a garage. 25 years ago it had an 80 amp panel, 12 years ago it went to 100 amps and this year that full panel went to 200 amps. Let me tell you that’s an upgrade that runs well into the 1000’s with insider connections. As time goes on we’ve all had a need for more power supplied to our homes. It’s not unheard of now for larger homes to get 400 amp panels which sounds crazy.
If your panel will be anywhere close to 75% full when you’re done I suggest going up a size. Things like heat pumps, hot tubs, garages and landscape lighting eat up those extra circuits really fast. I’ve heard electricians say that a full panel is a dangerous panel because it encourages people to do sketchy sh!t. Moral of the story get a bigger panel than you ever think you will need. It would be rare to build a home that shouldn’t at least have a 200 amp panel.
Dog washing station in the garage
This one won’t apply to everyone but if you want a dog washing station you pretty much have to do it now. If you don’t you’ll need to bust out the garage floor. That’s it on this one it’s now or it’s never more than likely. PS if you want to wash your car in your garage someday, same thing goes.
One old thing that’s gone totally out of fashion is the humble utility or shop sink. You know the deep plastic ones with four legs. My mom has one and I think it’s stained with every paint and stain that’s ever been applied in that house in the last 50 years. Utility sinks are awesome for washing paint brushes, trowels, dirty vegetables, hands, buckets and emptying lobster pots. The list goes on. See if you can find a spot for one somewhere in the basement, mudroom or garage because if not you’ll be washing all those things in your bathtub or kitchen sink like me.
South facing driveway
If you live somewhere with snow and you are at the lot planning stage think about situating everything so that you have a south facing driveway. Things like solar panels get the most daylight and energy from the sun if they face south. In places with winter that means that the snow and ice in your driveway will melt the most in a day if it faces that way too.
Our driveway is terrible by a lot of standards, it’s very long, up a hill and unpaved. With a big four wheel drive it doesn’t really bother me and it is responsible for our pretty stunning view so it’s a give and take. But… it is south facing so it starts to melt very fast even on days when the temperature doesn’t go above freezing. If you have the same option for driveway direction it is very nice.
Insulate bedroom walls
Do you have a partner, teenager or houseguest that might snore? Do you sometimes make noise in your bedroom you don’t want everyone to hear? If you answered yes to these questions consider throwing some insulation into the interior walls around bedrooms. You don’t need to aim for the same r-value as exterior walls but some r-12 will go along way for privacy. It’s about $50 per wall.
Make a spare room multi functional
I touched on this a bit before but at some point you might use bedrooms for other uses than sleeping. But if you plan to have a spare room it’s kind of a waste of money to build it, heat it and maintain it most of the year just for the occasional guest. If you know you will have a spare room set it up to be multifunctional from the start. For many a spare room that mostly functions as a home office that also happens to have a Murphy bed in it will get used more than just a bedroom would. There are lots of ‘also’ uses for a spare room like:
- Home office
- Craft, hobby or sewing room
- Yoga or workout space
- A place to hang clothes
- A playroom or hang out space
- A wicked sleepover room
- Meditation room
- Art studio or music room
I know those hideaway Murphy beds are expensive at about $1000 dollars but that and some built ins can make that space mostly for you and still work for the occasional guest.
Main floor bedroom
We never know what life has in store for us and sometimes it’s not so great. There might come a point where getting upstairs to the bedroom might not be feasible for someone in your family or in your extended family. I’ve tutored in more than one home where an elderly grandparent had to take over the dining room with their hospital bed for a time.
If you can swing it within your plans it’s a good idea to think about where you might put a bed on the main floor if the situation ever came up. It doesn’t have to be very convenient just something that could work in a pinch. Homes marketed to seniors and boomers now often feature a main floor master. I wouldn’t say you need to build this space specifically in anticipation of this moment but it is something to consider.
We have a very small room that used to be a bedroom but we now use as an expansive pantry that could be converted back. My sister has two main floor living rooms which is also great for getting away from noisy kids when you entertain. My mom has a sunroom that could easily serve this purpose although all of her bedrooms are on the main floor. Just something to think about when you build.
Removable ceiling over the utility room
You probably already know that the guts of your house live in the utility room. What you might not realize is that the arteries of those systems often run into the ceiling right above. If the ascetics in that area don’t really matter consider installing a drop ceiling in there, yes, with those terrible removable acoustic tiles.
It might make the jobs of trades people that have to work in your home much easier. It could also mean you avoid patching that ceiling more than once.
I asked honey about this and he had three insights, take extra waterproofing steps wherever you can, insulate and if you think you might be interested in solar set it up when you build. What things did you do when building that worked out perfectly? What do you wish the builder did? Leave it in the comments below!
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