Are you dreaming of building your own home some day? Are you searching for the perfect house plan but can’t seem to find it? You may have looked at dozens or even hundreds of custom house plan designs, but you’re not quite there. Maybe you realize you don’t quite understand the steps involved in the process of designing and building your dream home.
A new home is a huge commitment. It takes time, knowledge and savings. Owning a home is likely the largest investment you’ll ever make, and you want to do it wisely. Obtaining a new home gives you some choices. You can buy one already built on speculation that’s for sale and ready for occupancy. You can contract with a builder who has a home partly constructed and then add your custom finishes. Or, you can start from the ground and go up. That begins with selecting the right house plan for your needs and your budget.
The key to success in building your home is in the planning stage. That stage includes selecting the perfect house plan. From that basic concept, you then proceed in a logical and proven process that involves ten distinct steps. They range from approving the design to physical construction. Every step is critical. Choosing your finishing materials is just as important as having various milestones inspected for quality assurance.
It’s vitally important to understand the building process and to work with the right team. Working with the right team of house plan designer, builder, sub-contractors, material suppliers and financial institute will make your journey from clearing the lot to unloading the moving truck seamless and stress-free.
Educating yourself about the building process is the best investment in preparation you can make. To help, we’ve broken the building process into ten clear steps. Our guide starts with establishing a budget and ends with the final walk-through and moving in. Here’s what to expect when you build your own home.
1. Establish Your Building Budget
The first step in the building process is setting an accurate financial budget. “Realistic" and “accurate" are the operative words. You must realistically define your needs, wants and must-haves before you can set accurate figures to what your overall costs will be. Costs will include more than the money it’ll take to build your home. There are also the operational costs to service once it’s built.
The best way to set a home building budget is to separate each group of expenses or categories where funds need allocating. These expenditures are usually called “line items". Figures are attached to a line at the bottom of the category, which is added for an overall sum. Some of your line items will be costs for:
- Lot purchase including taxes and legal fees
- Lot clearing and site servicing
- Custom house plan designs
- Permits, approvals and inspections
- Utility connections like power, water, sewer, gas and communications
- Foundation, drainage, fill and grading
- Frameworks including floors, walls, roof and sheathing
- Windows, doors, air barrier and cladding
- Plumbing, heating, ventilation, and electrical rough-ins
- Sheetrock, painting and trim
- Cabinets, flooring and decorating
- Final fixtures such as lights, sinks, toilets and taps
- Landscaping, drives, walks, fences and irrigation
- Service costs including insurance, payments, builders’ fees and storage
- Incidentals for unseen issues, cost overruns, delays and damages
Itemizing each phase or building stage is a time-consuming job, but it’s the only way to be accurate, or as accurate as you can get when taking on a home building project. That’s why it’s so important to build a contingency into your budget. Make sure you don’t run so tight that funds expire before completion.
Be very careful not to rely on setting your budget by the cost-per-square-foot myth. It’s true you can add your costs at the end of your project and divide them by whatever you calculate to be the home’s square footage. This will give you a financial ratio, but it’s dangerous to set your budget by estimating that homes in your area are being built for “X-amount-per-square-foot".
There are too many variables in the home-building business to safely rely on area-by-dollar budgets. The exception is where tract builders repeat the same plan in the same conditions. Budgeting custom home plan designs really ties into your lot conditions and what finishes you select.
When you have a realistic and solid budget set, start looking around for the best loan options. Banks are selling a product when they offer a mortgage, and there can be enough competition for your loan for you to get a deal. A mortgage calculator can help you make an accurate estimate of what you can finance and what your monthly payments will be.
Before bidding and creating house plans, look to prequalify for a construction and mortgage loan. If you get pre-approval, you’ll be ahead of the game. If you don’t, you can resolve any issues that might be holding you back. It will help to get unsettled debts or credit issues handled before construction begins.
2. Choose Your Perfect House Plan
Before you get too detailed in selecting and designing your perfect house plan, make sure you’ve settled on the property you intend to build it on. A basic principle in home design is that the structure has to conform and work with the building site. It’s much more difficult and expensive to change a lot’s characteristics to suit an impractical house plan.
Some of the property details to consider when picking the perfect house plan might be:
Natural slope and grading. It’s difficult to adapt a level ranch-style home to a side-sloping lot without extensive lot re-forming and retention.
View corridors. Your location may have a beautiful water, mountain or meadow view that needs working into your design.
Zoning restrictions. Your local authorities may have regulations covering heights, setbacks, area coverages and other rules that govern home designs.
Weather patterns. Take wind, rain, sun and natural shadows into account.
Site access. Whether your site is a subdivision lot or a rural acreage, you must calculate your drive or road approach into your home design.
With these hard parameters under control, now’s the time to perfect your house design. You might have heard the term “Form Follows Function". This sage advice truly applies to custom house plan designs where the final form depends on your home’s function.
Create a list of must-have features you need and want. Some things to consider when deciding are:
• Architectural style. Popular are Farmhouse
, Cape Cod, Traditional
, Ranch, Contemporary
• General Layout. Think if you need a one or two-story design, how many square feet of floor area, number of bedrooms and the location of bathrooms.
• Personal Style. Visualize yourself living in the home. Think of family time, entertaining, guest accommodation and special holiday events. Would an open floor plan suit your family? Are flexible or bonus spaces essential? Do you need a gourmet kitchen with a second oven or a luxurious master suite?
Once you have a house plan in mind with the right search criteria, finding best-selling house plans from Nelson Design Group will be a breeze. Start with your functions, and the perfect form is sure to evolve. If you are looking for an environmentally-friendly green home, check out our exclusive collection of stock plans. Each can be customized to suit your aesthetic or lifestyle.
For something all your own, contact our design team and begin your perfect house plan from scratch.
3. Build the Foundation and Raise the Framing
Setting your home on a solid foundation is the key to making sure it’s built in three accurate dimensions. The foundation has to be square, level and plumb. Everything in home construction is based on those basic principles. If one of these dimensions is out of kilter, every tradesperson following in the process is going to fight a building that’s not founded properly.
The foundation anchors your structure to the ground and supports all the load forces that travel from the roof and floors and into the concrete foundation walls where they’re disbursed by gravity to the earth. An improperly built foundation is extremely difficult to repair. Spending the time and money making sure your foundation is right is invaluable.
Your ground conditions and lot slope are primary factors in determining foundation design. Secondary influences are the specifics of the individual house plan. American houses commonly use three types of foundations:
Full basement. These are common in colder climates where the foundation footings must be set deep to avoid frost penetration and ground upheaval. Most full, in-ground basements are eight feet in height and suitable for finishing as living spaces.
Crawlspace. Crawlspaces are common in warmer climates where there’s no practical need for deep, expensive excavation. Most crawlspaces are just high enough to navigate on your hands and knees between the underside of floor joists and a concrete skim-coat or ground seal.
Slab-on-grade. These are the simplest and most economical foundations and are common in ranch-style homes. The home’s entire lower floor is a solid concrete slab placed directly on compacted fill then finished with a wide variety of flooring.
After the foundation concrete has set and the underground services are connected, the site is backfilled and roughly graded. Now framing your home begins. Important framing members include:
- Floor joists and subfloor sheathing
- Exterior and bearing walls with studs and wall sheathing
- Interior, non-load bearing partition walls
- Roof rafters or engineered trusses with roof sheathing
This component erection phase is called “mainframe". Once your structure has the roof on, installation of windows and doors begins, and it’s able to be secured or at “lock-up" stage.
4. Mechanical Installation
While your home is getting ready to be locked-up, mechanical rough-in starts. This includes the plumbing drain, waste and vent (DWV), heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), electrical wiring and gas lines if you have that service.
Mechanical rough-in also includes minor but important features like security alarms, fire and carbon monoxide detectors, entertainment system pre-wire as well as central vacuum piping. These details are difficult to add after the walls are covered up, and they all require quality.
5. Walking Through for a First Framing Inspection
Independent, third-party inspections are made by an official from your local building department to make sure all works are code compliant. You may get a visit from your builder’s home warranty department, which is added insurance that things are built right.
This is the time to ensure you look after the little but important details. These details might be having electrical switches and outlets placed correctly or having backing in place to support heavy blinds, drapes, towel bars or even anticipated artwork once your home is completed. Once the sheetrock is in place and the walls are covered, changing hidden details is difficult.
Time spent in thoroughly going through every room and visualizing things like furniture placement, accent lighting and allowing for backing to support drapes or heavy artwork will pay off dearly.
6. Insulation — Your Home’s Blanket
Once your home is closed-up, your insulation will be out of sight and out of mind. Take comfort that it’s there because insulation is doing a highly important job in making your home a comfortable environment.
There are three main areas of insulation. One is in the basement or crawlspace and keeps the lower floor warm. Rigid Styrofoam is often used on the foundation walls because it’s water impermeable and can stand underground stresses. Fiberglass batt insulation is the choice material in the exterior, wood-frame walls. Ceilings are often blown-in masses of fiber particles and left undisturbed in the attic.
Vapor barriers are another important component in your home’s building envelope. Vapor barriers prevent humidity from seeping from inside the home and into the walls where it can cause a host of problems, including mold. Some of the new spray foam insulation products serve as a thermal and vapor barrier combined.
7. Closing-up Your Home
Closing-up your home happens both inside and out. On the interior, drywall subcontractors hang the gyp-roc, or sheetrock, as it’s also known. You get a sense of space, but it can be deceiving. Rooms will probably seem much smaller than your imagined, but don’t worry. It’s an optical illusion. Once the walls are painted and trim is installed, the expanse will seem to open out.
Closing up has also occurred on your home’s exterior. The roof shingles will long be on and the doors and windows are in place. Houses are wrapped in a weather barrier. That may be in old-fashioned tar paper or one of the new house wraps commonly used. Your builder may ask which you prefer. Choice may depend on your climatic conditions.
In this phase, each room is now defined. Your project has gone from paper to a three-dimensional reality. You’ll be able to get a true feel of how you’ll be living inside. You’ve watched it go from a maze of studs, pipes and wires to a closed-up place.
8. Applying Exterior Finishes
There are many exterior components to install that give your home the special façade appearance you’ve envisioned. The roof shingles are the first to go on, once the framing is complete. Roofing is followed by gutters and then the siding and soffits.
Your choice in siding materials is going to be governed by the architectural style you want and by what materials are acceptable in your area. Some developments prohibit certain claddings like vinyl siding and may require that you only use an exterior surface such as stucco.
Your budget may dictate your exterior finishes. Masonry or brick are beautiful but can be expensive. Often, builders compromise and add small amounts of expensive materials to complement the main cladding style. Colors are another important make-up of exterior finishing, and they’re a matter of personal choice.
9. Finishing Inside Your Home
Nowhere does it get more personal in the building process than how you finish inside your home. Once the interior walls are painted, some of the flooring surfaces are laid. That may be sheet goods like vinyl cushion floor, or it could be solid materials such as tile or hardwood. Laminate floors are popular for their durability, look and reasonable cost.
Flooring is set in conjunction with the interior door hanging and casing installation. Cabinets and counters are now put in place and final plumbing and lighting fixtures get attached. Final details include painting and soft floor covers. Blinds and window covers are the last to go in, as the construction dust is now passed.
10. Time to Move In
Before signing-off, you’ll make a final walk through with your builder. Here’s where you make a deficiency count. It’s called a “punch list" in the building business because each deficiency is punched off as it’s corrected. You’ll be examining everything from the appliances to the toilets, including the operation, fit and finish of doors and cabinets.
Any noted deficiencies should be rectified before taking possession of your new home. It’s quite inconvenient to have the builder or their subtrades make repeated visits after you’ve settled in. You may also evoke a holdback of funds until the last little issues are cleared.
Moving into your new home can be one of the most satisfying experiences in your life. You’ve lived the home in concept from picking the perfect house plan and You can watch it grow from the foundation to the finishings, and it all starts with a plan. Let Nelson Design Group help you with that plan. Check out our house plans today.