Step one to a Mojave-dry basement is proper placement. “Many people who are building their own homes, site the house too low, says Art Friedrich, owner of Friedrich Construction. If you’re acting as your own general contractor, ask the excavator to help you determine where the house should go.
Step two is installing a foundation high enough to permit adequate backfilling. Many do-it-yourself builders stop six to eight inches short (they need one more layer of blocks) because they think too much foundation wall will show. It won’t. “The backfill will cover it,” Friedrich promises, “and it’s a lot easier to haul in two or three loads of dirt for extra backfill than to deal with a potentially leaky basement.”
As for Friedrich’s Step three in keeping out the wet, it’s, “Insist on true water-proofing and a properly installed subdrain system. Just damp-proofing is insufficient.”
Achieving wide open spaces in new houses’ interiors has gotten a lot easier. Credit engineered lumber, says Jerry Klevan, Sales Consultant at Hanson Builders & Remodelers. I-joists, trusses, beams and other structural framing components made from engineered lumber boost design flexibility and support large, open rooms.
Engineered lumber out-performs conventional wood, Klevan says. “The engineered lumber is more stable. It can span longer distances and carry heavier loads. It lets builders achieve longer expanses in floor systems.”
Engineered lumber, also known as LVL (laminated veneer lumber), is a layered composite of wood veneers and waterproof adhesive, bonded under high pressure. “LVL components are a large and important part of the framing package today,” Klevan says.
In insulation, the foremost factors are R-value (the capacity of an insulator to resist heat flow) and cost (computed per square foot). The two rise together, so consider your budget and how long you plan to stay in your new house, says Denny Tienter, Manager of Citywide Insulation Inc.
EXTERIOR WALL INSULATION: Choices include R-19 or R-21 fiberglass batt or R-23 net-and-blow. Fiberglass batting comes pre-made, in sheets or rolls. In the net-and-blow process, netting is installed and insulation blown and packed in behind the net. R-19 batt costs 24 cents less a square foot than R-21 and 34 cents less than R-23 net-and-blow.
ATTIC INSULATION (BLOWN-IN): R-38, the minimum allowed by the building code, runs seven cents below the R-45. “The maximum as far as payback goes is R- 45,” Tienter says. “Everything depends on the size of the house.”
When choosing doors for their new houses, most people concentrate on price, says Bob Manemann, Vice President and General Manager of Kreofsky Building Supplies. That’s fine, but the warranty matters, too.
What’s its length? One-year warranties are most common, Manemann says, “but a 10-year-warranty door is much better.” The best doors come so wrapped up in metal that no wood shows.
If a guaranteed door fizzles, who fixes it? “Some manufacturers don’t have repair crews. They’ll send you a new threshold, but you have to install it.” Find out who’s responsible for the labor.
What’s the buyer’s obligation? Some outside doors come painted with a primer and need a complete paint job, and on all six sides at that. The finishing layer protects doors’ wood edgings from rotting and metal edgings from rusting, and if either problem occurs and the door isn’t wearing a top coat of paint, the warranty is void.
The plumbing contractor furnishes and installs three systems your new house can’t do without:
“Proper installation is vital to the health of the family,” says Jim Gander, owner of Superior Plumbing and Heating. “Plumbing contractors and plumbers protect the home from hundreds of diseases that can be transmitted through the drain or water distribution system.”
That’s why it takes at least four years’ experience to earn journeyman plumber designation and at least another year to qualify as a plumbing contractor. It’s also why the Minnesota Department of Health polices plumbing contractors and administers the licensing tests they must pass.
“You need a licensed, competent plumber because lots of weird bacteria can thrive in an improperly installed system,” Gander says. “Is your plumber licensed? If he is, he’s most likely doing the job right.”
The building code solves some of the electric plug-ins placement puzzle by requiring outlets six feet from doors and then every 12 feet. In the kitchen, code calls for a countertop outlet every four feet.
Beyond that, you get to decide, and Terri Broadwater, Residential Manager at Winkels Electric, has some tips. “Walk through the house after it’s framed and plan where you want your furniture.” Where will you put the TV, VCR and DVD player? And the computer and its electronics entourage? It’s a good idea to provide extra outlets for those gadgets to get their prongs into.
If your kitchen plans include a countertop microwave, it will need a dedicated circuit. In the bedroom, it’s nice to have an electric outlet on both sides of the bed.
“There’s a lot to consider,” Broadwater says. “If you have questions, electricians are more than happy to help.”
To your new house to-do list, add talk with the heating contractor. HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) offers options, says Steve Murphy, president of Tonna Heating & Cooling. Find out what’s available.
Look at types of fuels. Do you prefer LP, natural gas, electric or geo-thermal? “You and the heating contractor will be able to figure out which is best for you.
“Look at payback versus upfront installation. If you have an idea how long you plan to live in the house, factor that in. Remember to check with the utility company for rebates.”
Fuel types aren’t your only options. You can choose systems for zoning, comfort, indoor air quality and air filtering. “Look at future expansion,” Murphy says, “and plan now to make sure the system is set up for that.”
You should have that chat with the heating contractor before the ducts are installed because once they are, it’s too late for changes.
You can call it drywall, Sheetrock, gypsum wall board or plasterboard, but please don’t blame it for nail pops. New homeowners’ number one complaint about drywall is that nuisance – the nail pop. Drywall is innocent, says Dan Soderberg of Palmer-Soderberg Inc. The true culprit is the wood behind the drywall.
As the wood dries, it shrinks and pulls away from the nails. Drywall didn’t do it, and the nails don’t really pop.
Drywall installers do everything they can to prevent those so-called nail pops. The method of fastening the drywall to the wood (the framing studs and joists) depends on the situation. A combination of nails and screws works best for securing drywall to ceilings and outside walls. Nails and glue are the top choice for inside walls.
If your new house does get a nail pop, Soderberg hopes you will “please remember we didn’t leave it that way.”
“How am I going to get all my clothes in this closet?” ranks as number one among customer questions, says Becky Plath, co-owner of Closet Organizers. “Many closets look big until you start putting your stuff in them. Then they look little.”
Often, people pay no attention to closets until after their house is built. It’s a good idea to pay attention sooner than that, such as when the house is being designed.
But whether or not you help plan your house’s storage areas, closet organizing systems, consisting of shelves, drawers, shoe racks, door and wall racks, extra rods, etc., can help you maximize space. Pick a system built of high-quality material. If you choose ventilated wire, for example, be sure it’s heavy gauge steel. If you hire a professional to design and install your storage system, make sure he guarantees the installation. “Closets are a very important part of the house,” Plath says, “and custom closets add to its resale value.”
“As they’re building a house, some people don’t think about a security system,” says Melissa Brinkman, Director of Business Development at Custom Alarm. “They plan to get one put in later, but the best time to start is when the house is being built.”
The best time, in fact, is before the drywall gets installed, when access is easy and running wires practical. When the house is finished, the wiring will be ready for the security devices. But if your house is already sheetrocked, it can still have a security system, and a good one, because wireless technology works just as well as its hard-wired kin.
The advantage of a wire network is the lower cost of its devices. “You can also combine hard-wired and wireless equipment. They work well together,” Brinkman says.
“Structured wiring,” “data/voice/video wiring,” “low-voltage wiring,” “structured cabling” — whichever you call it, your new house needs it. Mark Stevens, project manager at Adair Electric, likes “structured wiring,” which he describes as wiring for communications. It transmits audio, video and data for computers, telephones, TV, computer networks, e-mail, Internet, VCRs, DVDs and more. “Structured wiring used to be for businesses. Now houses need it, too.”
Your house will get a dash of structured wiring, enough for telephones and TV, but if you want to go beyond the basics, you should let your builder know. Structured wiring involves cabling, data jacks and a central distribution panel that can be reconfigured to suit your needs.
As demand for home theater systems, home offices and other electronic networks soars, so does demand for structured wiring. It increases your options and adds to your home’s resale value. A new house without it is already obsolete, “like a car without a radio and air conditioning.”
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.