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Thread: Building a house....

  1. #1
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Building a house....

    OK, I know a few of you have recently done this and are now experts! What advice would you offer to someone tackling this adventure? For anyone, if you were going to build a house, what features would you definitely want, what would you avoid? Upgrades include a central vacuum system, trex deck rather than wood, a wet bar in the lower level, and a whole bunch of other things that really increase the cost. What would be priority?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    As someone who is also looking to build, here are some of the things I'm considering in a design:
    • Front open porch & rear screened porch
    • Energy efficient building envelope w/ Energy Star appliances
    • Small size (<500 square feet per person)
    • Full basement
    • Attached two car garage w/ storage capacity in rafters
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Choose a "family" room or a "living" room, no one needs both.

    I agree with open front porch and screened rear porch.

    Full unfinished basement.

    A library room (with only one entrance but lots of natural light) with cabinets on the lower portion of the walls and full hardwood shelving to the ceiling.

    A 2-car detached garage with storage in an enclosed attic space accesible from the outside.

    At least 2 windows per room with said windows on opposing sides of the room for cross ventilation.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Plus Salmissra's avatar
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    Plan extra outlets for each room. Standard is 2 per bedroom - go for 1 on each wall. Gives you more flexibility in furniture arranging.

    Walk-up attic/storage area a must!

    Either tint the windows or have full coverings - not just sheers. Keep out the direct sunlight.

    If it's 2 story - have separate A/C units for up and down, and also separate water heaters/plumbing systems.

    I'm sure I'll think of more, but it's my first day back after Rita, so I'm a little distracted.
    "We do not need any other Tutankhamun's tomb with all its treasures. We need context. We need understanding. We need knowledge of historical events to tie them together. We don't know much. Of course we know a lot, but it is context that's missing, not treasures." - Werner Herzog, in Archaeology, March/April 2011

  5. #5
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    I would take it easy on the frills (i.e., tile or wood flooring, top of the line windows, granite, etc.) These things can all be done later and will add a significant cost to your overall house budget, granted they can usually be done easier at the time of original construction.

    Open floor plans are nice and will generally save some dough as well.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Salmissra
    If it's 2 story - have separate A/C units for up and down, and also separate water heaters/plumbing systems.
    What' s the basis for this recommendation? If the property is proposed and can only be used as a single family residence, I'm not sure this makes much sense.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by SGB
    What' s the basis for this recommendation? If the property is proposed and can only be used as a single family residence, I'm not sure this makes much sense.
    Maybe not so much in new construction, but a lot of older houses have separate HVAC units for upstairs and down. Partly because you can run duct work in the basement and attic without tearing into walls. But also because it is much easier to cool the upstairs if it has its own air handler. My house only has one unit and it is hard to push all the cold air upstairs.

    It would greatly help if there was an air return upstairs. The trick to cooling an area is not as much as pumping cold air in as much as sucking the hot air out.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SGB
    What' s the basis for this recommendation? If the property is proposed and can only be used as a single family residence, I'm not sure this makes much sense.
    I suppose it really depends upon the size of the house. My parents did this when building the house I grew up in with the intention of putting doors at both sets of steps and closing off the second floor to everyday use once we kids left home for good. That hasn't really happened, as they keep taking in strays (foster kids), but it does allow them to cool the upstairs much more efficiently.

    My must haves would include
    *Big front porch
    *Separate range/oven
    *Fireplace
    *At least 2.5 baths.
    *Hardwood floors


    Waste of money
    *Central vacuum
    *Intercom system (do they still even make those)
    *Big foyers open to the second floor (in most cases)

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Big Owl's avatar
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    select a builder that allows you to use "sweat equity." I had a friend that all did would be go over to the job site and sweep and clean up... well as clean as you can keep a work site and he used his sweat equity which was what the builder would have spent to get someone to do that type of task to do some upgrades on lighting fixtures and flooring. Also don't write-off space such as basements and story and halfs because of added cost... it can be low cost expansion space as the need arises.

    Make sure the closets are functional for the use of the room. Be aware of what can be visible from the front door... this is what everyone that comes to your door will see. Our house is lived in but the front hallway/foryer(sp?) is kept in showroom shape. if the front door opened into a greatroom/livingroom or den that would that much more space that i would feel needed to be keep in better shape, because most of the folks that visit my house never make it past the front door (salesmen, girlscouts, political candates, and so-on) so that space is kept neater than the rest of the house which is difficult to do with two naturally not so orginized individuallals and a child.

    also energy effiecient appliances and a inline water heater (a little more pricey but over the long run you will see some savings)

  10. #10
    If you can afford the price increase over pressure treated, definitely upgrade any decks to composite. We bit the bullet and did this and have loved it. No splinters in kids feet, dries very quickly, and never has to be sealed or stained.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Plumbing stubs in the basement for a 3 fixture rest room (Bathroom fixtures can be put in later when basement is finished)
    Walkout basement or accessory access into the basement
    Egress windows for all basement windows.
    Build according to the proposed (but suspended) Michigan Energy Code. (Does not cost all that much, but will save you tons of money in the winter and summer
    Hepa filters on air exchange. (Knowing your location, it will make things much healthier inside)
    Open floor plan for Kitchen, Family/Living room, and informal dinning area with separate formal dining room.
    First floor laundry room
    Only a ½ bath on 1st floor
    Jack and Jill bathroom on 2nd floor (If multiple children are expected)
    Lots of energy efficient windows. (More light will make you feel warming in the cold winters and require less use of laps for lights)
    GFI outlets for ALL outlets in Bathrooms and Kitchen
    HD cable (even if it is not hooked up right now)
    Motion Detection Light in potentially vulnerable (such as front corners of house) connected to an internal outlet by front window instead of exterior light. (This will make it look like someone is home anytime anyone approaches the house)
    Privacy wall or W/C for toilet in master bathroom and basement bathroom

    Attached garage that is insulated and dry walled with extra sockets and available 220volt service. (In the event that your husband wants to upgrade tools at some point)
    Hanging Natural Gas heater for garage (Use when you need to do something in the winter, like melt the ice off your car)
    Deep drain with sand box trap for garage floor.
    Leave a section of 2 inch pvc pipe that goes though the garage floor (in corner or under a proposed bench area) if you plan on putting in a water point for garden/ grass watering.
    *Down the road, I would suggest using one of those grip/ rubberized paint or spray on coating for garage floor.

    (We had to design a residential home for an architecture class... these were just some of the details in mine)
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  12. #12
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon
    Maybe not so much in new construction, but a lot of older houses have separate HVAC units for upstairs and down. Partly because you can run duct work in the basement and attic without tearing into walls. But also because it is much easier to cool the upstairs if it has its own air handler. My house only has one unit and it is hard to push all the cold air upstairs.

    It would greatly help if there was an air return upstairs. The trick to cooling an area is not as much as pumping cold air in as much as sucking the hot air out.
    Our new house is 2-story and only has one HVAC. It does, however, have air intakes on both the bottom and top floors, so I think this is what you're talking about. There is a noticeable difference between the floors as far as how cool the air gets, though. Maybe we'll shut off all unnecessary vents on the bottom floor. I have to have it very cool at night to be able to sleep
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  13. #13
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Great ideas everyone! We are looking at a one story, 3bdrm house (split with master on one side and other two on the other side). It's abut 1760 sq. feet, open floor plan. The lower level (aka basement) has a walk out with family room, full bath, and guest bedroom. We are upgrading the facade to have a front porch (not huge, but not just a stoop), and are trying to decide on the upgrades. Keep in mind that standard, this house is BEAUTIFUL (fireplace, vaulted ceilings, etc. and completely liveable), but there are things that you can't necessarily do later:

    Facade ($2,000): to have larger front porch and more character. This is the one that I won't do without, even though hubby doesn't like it as much.

    Painted trim (standard) or stained ($2,000): I really like the look of stain. White probably shows more dirt, but could be more easily cleaned and repaired. Plus wall paint colors look good with white, whereas not all colors look good with stain

    Central Vacuum ($2,000): not really a necessity, but everyone that has one loves it and highly recommends it.

    Trex deck ($2,000): will probably go with this over wood because of less maintenance and having a little girl (with at least one more someday)

    Security System: not sure how much, but is this something to consider? DH does work a 24 hour shift.

    Wet bar and additional finished room in lower level ($4,000): not really needed for us - we can finish other room later. At minimum we can have them plumb for wet bar.

    This doesn't really cover the "little" things such as tile vs. linoleum, granite vs. corian, etc.

    This builder will also work with you on deducts - lot clearing, garage finishing, lot seeding, etc.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian jmf's avatar
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    My requirement list: (not exhaustive - I'll add to it as I think of more)

    - reasonably sized closets in all bedrooms: not big enough to have a party in but big enough for lots of stuff

    - linen cupboard: with drawers and shelves, the one in my house is really deep and is great for blankets and quilts as well as sheets and towels

    - laundry on the same floors as the bedrooms (or at least not in the basement)

    - mudroom with toilet, big sink, drying racks right by an entrance - makes it easier for the kids to come in from outside and strip down out of wet, dirty clothes - if my laundry couldn't be on the second floor this is where is would be

    - separate heating controls in the bedroom area - there is no sense heating the downstairs as much at night or the bedrooms during the day

    - recycling area in kitchen: in our area you must separate plastics, paper and metals as well as organics and none of these go in the garbage so now we need a lot more space to sort and contain waste

    - refrigerator with freezer on bottom - so my husband doesn't have to bend down to not be able to find things in the fridge!

    - self-cleaning oven - need I say more

    - built-in shelves - I could have a lot more storage room if I could have built in floor to ceiling shelving areas (either with or without doors) rather than depending on shelving units which are usually about 5 feet tall

  15. #15
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I highly recommend a drive-under/walkout basement, especially if you are on a sloping lot without rear access. It will help with your curb appeal and give you space to expand if needed.

    Plumb the basement for a shower/bathtub, toilet and sinks. This helps make the house expandable without exterior alterations.

    Dumbwaiter from basement to all floors if washer/dryer is in basement.

    Master bedroom on main floor. This will help you if you need to sell later on.

    Go for an open plan with the eating area and living room together (great room). Design the kitchen area to look into the great room with a breakfast bar.

    I echo the dual HVAC units. I don't know if it is completely necessary in Michigan though. Find the most efficient ones you can on the market. I highly recommend American Standard--my parents put their's in 10 years ago and have not had a single problem.

    In-line water heater.

    Lots of extra electrical outlets: they don't cost much and make rooms much more flexible.

    A large front porch. Adds to curb appeal and shades windows (especially helpful if facing west). keeping the heat out isn't as big of a deal in Michigan though, but I still think it gives a house more presence.

    Go nuts on attic insulation. (you can do this on your own later on, especially since there are plenty of Michigan Cyburbians that you can bribe with beer to help you out)

    Utility room on main floor.

    All of the other stuff mentioned on here sounds good too. It looks like the Mrs. & I will be building a house in the not so distant future as well.

    EDIT: pre-wire for security system.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  16. #16
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner
    We are looking at a one story, 3bdrm house (split with master on one side and other two on the other side).
    Keep in mind that if you are planning on a full basement, one story layouts are more expensive because of the foundation size. A smaller footprint will also give you more yard to have fun with.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  17. #17
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    We just built ours this past spring and have some things.

    Our builder was an Energy Star builder, if you can go with some of the features that are energy efficient, Built Green, and E-Star, go for that.
    Here are some sites from the builder for my house.
    E-Star
    Energy Star
    BuiltGreen Based on Colorado, but there may be links to Michigan. Also info on materials to use, like TREX decking.
    The combination of these features helps us save a ton of money on utilities, also our house is "tighter" and not that drafty. (Helps in the winds of Northern Colo.) And I cannot wait to see these features work in the Winter.

    I wish I would have done TREX decking, if you have pooches that jump, it won't be scratched, and one of my neighbors has it and his kid, 16 mnths old, likes it and it is safe for him.
    If you plan on finishing the basement, have them put in 9foot high ceilings if available.
    Central vacuum, not so much. My GF would love to have it, but there is too many other things we wanted.
    Open floor plan from kitchen to living room. If you entertain, everyone will be in the kitchen. This will also ensure that your guest can still watch the game.
    Another intangible that my neighbor thought of, was an outdoor outlet on the upper floors. Good for hanging Christmas/Holiday lights (if you do that).
    If you get carpeting, get something good. We have the top of the line padding, but basic carpet... out dog has put a good dent in the carpet since.
    More outlets in the garage and basement are a must. Also put an outlet near the irrigation plumbing outlet... that way it is easier to wire and mount a control box.
    Our walkout is great, but never will be utilized until we finish the basement.
    Try to get an "on-demand" water heater. We love ours and our bills have gone down. With these, you are not constantly keeping gallons of water hot, so that there is less gas usage. (I'll try to post a pic of ours, it is also a space saver )

    Plenty more for me to say, but I should get working, as I got in late!
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  18. #18
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner
    ...Central Vacuum ($2,000): not really a necessity, but everyone that has one loves it and highly recommends it....
    I was talking to a friend about this last weekend and we both agreed what a great feature it would be to have in a house.

    My house has an open kitchen, dining area, and living room that I like a lot. A second water heater is also nice if there is a long run from the main WH to a shower (yup, I got second WH).

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    My two favorite homes were both between 1200 and 1300 square feet. One was my 3 bedroom, 1 bath house in Kansas and the other was a 3 bedroom, 2 bath luxury apartment in Washington. They both had centrally located laundry closets, convenient to the bedrooms and bathrooms. Open floorplans for the living spaces (one more than the other). A good kitchen that is convenient to the main entrance and/or the garage. In Kansas, my kitchen was convenient to both the garage entrance and the front door. Also, the pantry was the closest thing to the garage. I have lived with a lot of different pantries over the years. The one in Kansas was the most convenient one I have ever had: from the floor to the top of the regular cabinets and only one foot deep. You could open it and see almost everything. And it was sufficient storage for us.

    The one thing I did not like about them was they had sucky foyers.

  20. #20
    spokanite's avatar
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    I'd suggest:

    o Radiant Heating - avoid forced air
    o Tankless water heater
    o If on a non-subdivision lot, hire a lanscape architect to site it and then develop an overall plan for landscaping. Do not hire a LANDSCAPE DESIGNER. Not the same thing.
    o Plenty of decks/patios for outside living
    o Toilet separate from the bathroom
    o 2 x 6 framing

    Finally, hire a builder who subscribes to FINE HOMEBUILDING.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    From our experience with our little house: Pergo or similar floors are awesome, very durable, easy to clean, etc. I think ours are actually Armstrong, not sure. They haven't held up too well in the bathroom, though...thinking about replacing them with something more permanent, like tile.
    You can never have too much kitchen cabinet space or counter space.
    Make sure all sewer vents are easily accessible, even if you put in decking. We've learned, from hard-earned experience, that they're much easier to get to if they aren't obstructed (and also that snakes don't run too well in the rain ). This is one of those things that should be completely obvious, but sometimes isn't...
    Beware of the little things. A couple of our friends recently bought a house, and found that "services", like installing window blinds, added tremendously to the final cost. They ended up doing a lot of the finishing work themselves, or bringing in outside people, and were able to use the money they saved on nicer floors etc.
    What's the advantage of a central vacuum over, say, a Dyson? I thought those things went the way of the slide-out, harvest gold cooktop and the intercom system.
    I don't dream. I plan.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plannerbabs
    What's the advantage of a central vacuum over, say, a Dyson?
    Yeah, I've been told that central vacs. are teh sux0rz.

    I want a Dyson SOOOOO bad! Specifically the one designed for animal hair (2 cats and a dog). Maybe one day when I have an extra $500
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jread
    Yeah, I've been told that central vacs. are teh sux0rz.

    I want a Dyson SOOOOO bad! Specifically the one designed for animal hair (2 cats and a dog). Maybe one day when I have an extra $500
    I have a Hoover windtunnel and a dog with very long hair. The vacuum works great, as long as I have it serviced and cleaned every couple of months....

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Off-topic:
    We have a Dyson, the basic model, and two short-haired dogs, one of whom keeps going bald on his belly. It works great to pick up their hair, and all the other stuff. Our rugs look newer now than they did before, and we vacuumed regularly. On the other hand, the roller gunks up and jams regularly--apparently a mechanism to let you know it's jammed, so you don't keep running a mucky roller over your carpets. It's easy enough to clean out though, and I hear it's less of a problem with the fancier Dysons.
    I don't dream. I plan.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    What is all this talk of basements? I live in Florida; we don't have basements!! What an alien concept!

    If you're building in the frigid north, I'd suggest a sun porch with a tanning bed...

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