“Home Building Guide”: Exterior

Windows – Vinyl or Wood?

Choosing windows for a new house calls for homeowner homework, say Bob Vruwink and Brian McHenry, co-owners of North States Windows and Doors. Explore the options which include old standbys (wood, vinyl-clad wood, aluminum-clad wood and rigid vinyl) and a pair of aspiring rookies (cellular PVC and fiberglass).

Wood offers incomparable beauty and keeps its good looks if it’s maintained properly. Vinyl needs little maintenance. And the newcomers are the trend. “In the next 10 years, you’ll see less and less wood and vinyl,” Vruwink says.

No wonder. As an insulator, cellular PVC tops rigid vinyl by 200 percent and wood by 60 percent. Fiberglass insulates well, too, Vruwink says, “and is strong, doesn’t shrink or expand and is impervious to temperature changes and moisture.”

McHenry advises homeowners to research windows’ performance and longevity. Windows aren’t the place to cut corners. “Down the line, one of the most expensive things to replace is windows,” says Vruwink.

What Type of Shingles?

Most shingles are a composite of asphalt and fiberglass, a blend that produces strength and longevity & durability. You can gauge durability by the length of the warranty.

Manufacturers measure durability in tear strength which is tested by machine. The more shingles resist ripping, the longer the warranty. Forty-year-warranty shingles excel in tear strength. A 25-year warranty is good and the industry standard, says Mike Halloran, office manager at K.W. Billman Roofing. You should look for a guarantee of at least 25 years.

Warranty length isn’t the only longevity to consider. The manufacturer’s longevity matters, too, Halloran says. “Will the company be there if a problem occurs? If it has been in business a long time, it’s a good sign.”

“Remember, too,” says Billman Roofing estimator Bill Weiss, “that improper installation voids the warranty – just like opening the back of your new TV – so get yourself a qualified installer.”

Siding and Moisture Protection

Vinyl is the maintenance-free siding of choice for new houses, says Larson Siding and Windows President Tim Mayer. Its cost is the main reason for vinyl siding’s popularity but not the only one. It’s easy to clean and easy to repair and refuses to dent.

“Over the years, vinyl has gotten better and better,” Mayer says. “It’s thicker and longer and stronger and more fade resistant, too.” He recommends using vinyl siding that’s at least .046 inch thick. “Check out the fade warranty, too, especially if you want a darker color. Premium vinyl sidings can have 15-year fade resistance warranties.”

“Vinyl is the best value, but if you want really dark colors, use steel.” And don’t skip the important step before the siding. “Always use a house wrap to help the house breathe and be moisture proof,” Mayer says.

Landscape Plans

Before you put in your lawn and landscaping, tend to preliminaries, says Forrest Sargent, owner of Sargent’s Landscape Nursery.

1. Grading –“The bold water path – how water flows away from the house and off the property – must be established before the landscaping and lawn go in.” Runoff needs to be fast enough so water doesn’t sit”; the flow should harm neither your place nor the neighbors.” The excavating contractor does rough grading; the landscaper the finish grading.

2. Landscape construction — If you plan to build a retaining wall, patio or deck, you’ll reduce cost and disruption by doing it before you landscape.

3. Patience — The dirt surrounding your house’s foundation must settle, a process requiring plenty of water and approximately a year.

4. Irrigation system — If your plans include an automatic lawn sprinkler system, you can install it now.

You’ve followed Sargent’s rule and reached aesthetics time. Now you can plant your beautiful yard.

Don’t let your retaining wall sink

Do your landscaping plans include an install-it-yourself retaining wall that will run near the foundation of your new house?

The wall could sink. But you can prevent that by taking an extra step before you build the wall, says Todd Kroening, vice president of Custom Retaining Walls and Landscaping.

The shoring-up measure is necessary because the ground around the foundation of a new house hasn’t settled yet. “Before house builders put in the foundation, they dig a trench two or three feet wider than the foundation, and when the foundation is in, they backfill the trench.” That’s fine for normal purposes. But not for retaining wall purposes.

To droop-proof your retaining wall, dig a furrow where the wall will go. The furrow should be 18 to 24 inches wide and 10 inches deeper than the bottom of the wall. Now put in a 1-inch layer of compacted fill (rocks) — and build your unsinkable retaining wall.

Sprinkler systems tailored to landscaping

Unlike Mother Nature’s all-or-nothing approach to watering, automatic lawn sprinkling systems are tailored to the turf they shower on. And that’s why, says Bob Gander of Bob Gander Plumbing and Heating, “you need to know where your landscaping and edging are going to go before you install an automatic sprinkler system.”

The best time (easiest on both pocketbook and lawn) to put in an automatic system is before the yard gets its layer of sod or its scattering of grass seed and after your landscaping plans are firm.

But because not everyone has settled on the landscape design, the best time to install isn’t always the practical time. Good news: It’s all right to postpone — you can add a sprinkler system when you finish landscaping. And once the system is in, you can still change your landscaping because sprinkling elements can be switched.

Deck Options

Your new house is done except for the deck. Now it’s time to choose what you want that deck made of. Lee Smith, technical assistant at Kruse Lumber, describes characteristics of treated wood, cedar, composite and plastic.

Treated lumber costs the least, and it endures. “If you don’t stain it, it will turn grey, but it’ll last 40 years.”

Cedar, the top-seller, craves attention. “Cedar decks look good, but it’s hard to keep them that way. They need fresh stain, at least on the flooring, about every other year.”

Does no staining –ever –sound better? Consider composite lumber, a 50/50 blend of wood and plastic. Kruse’s best-selling composite costs approximately half again as much as cedar.

Plastic disdains maintenance, too, and keeps on looking good. But plastic planks cost about three times more than cedar and react to temperature changes. “Plastic expands and contracts, and you have to calculate that when you install it.”

Disability Access

Have you considered making your new house handicapped accessible? More and more people are doing just that, says Mark Stinson, manager of Barrier Free Access. “If it’s the house you want to live in, it’s easier and more practical to have it done right away.”

And you can also appreciate, right away, broader halls and wider doors and bigger bathrooms and a roomier kitchen. And more: “A number of products look nice — not institutional — and are becoming mainstream. An accessible shower, for example, is easier to use in general.”

A bathroom’s adaptability can become particularly important. You don’t have to install grab bars, but you could put in blocking for them. “People need to consider what they can do now to plan for the future,” Stinson says. “It’s hard to put a value on the ability to live in your own home.”

Saunas, Spas and Pools

Do your building plans include a swimming pool? There’s a best time to install it, says Michelle Petersen, owner of Waterfront Spa and Pool Inc. “Pool installation works best once the framing is complete and the electrician and plumber are starting to work.”

You can’t put a pool in before electricity — at least temporary electricity — has arrived on site. The elevation work and basement should be done, but the pool should go in before the final grading and landscaping because “you certainly don’t want to do that twice.”

As for location, the law will help you decide. Minnesota code says:

  • Swimming pools must be set a minimum of 10 feet from property lines.
  • Pool equipment must be installed a minimum of 20 feet from property lines. Remember the fence, too. “All pools must be enclosed with a non-climbable fence with self-closing, self-latching gates.” Rochester requires fences five feet high; Olmsted County’s rule is four feet.

Copyright 2010 Rochester Area Builders, Inc. No part of the Builder’s Corner articles may be reproduced or printed without written permission from Rochester Area Builders. 108 Elton Hills Lane NW, Rochester, MN 55901. Phone 507-282-7698.