Building a home is exciting, long, and stressful at times. This detailed guide will help you understand the home building process. It will also give you useful tips to consider which can make your home build better.
Getting Started – Your Role
People start the new home building process in different ways. Some people immediately go to the builders developing subdivisions in the area or call them on the phone. Others do a little bit of research on the internet to find a builder.
But, the home building process should really start with some education. A home build is one of the biggest purchases and investments you will make. So, it’s important to perform your due diligence to make sure the build is successful. The fact that you are reading this guide shows that you understand the importance of learning the home build process. In this way, you can be well informed, which will help you to make good decisions about your build.
You might be wondering- “What all do I need to learn?” This depends on the involvement you want to have in your home build and the type of build you choose- custom, production (subdivision), or spec (already completed). You can have a little involvement or a lot involvement, which we will discuss more later.
But, there is one aspect in educating yourself that shouldn’t change, no matter what. What is it? You need to educate yourself on how to pick the right builder.
How do People Choose a Bad Builder?
Working for many home builders over the years, I saw the good ones, the okay ones, and some pretty bad ones. What baffled me is how the builder’s clients could pick the awful home builders. Why were they choosing these builders? What I found is that these clients have a lack of knowledge in 2 areas. The first area is not knowing the importance of picking a good home builder (and thinking the cheapest builder will do the job just fine). The second area is not knowing an effective method for picking a good home builder.
Not Knowing the Importance of Picking a Good Builder
The first area, not knowing the importance of picking a good builder, is easy to overcome. All you have to do is realize, if this is one of the biggest purchases of your life, why would you leave it to chance. Do you really want to hope or assume your home build will turn out fine? There are too many things that can go wrong and do go wrong in a home build. It’s a long, detailed oriented process, requiring the builder to have many important characteristics and skills. So, you need to have a builder with these qualifications. No home build is perfect, but a bad builder can make your build stressful and give you a low quality home.
Not Knowing an Effective Method for Picking a Good Builder
The second area, not knowing an effective method for picking a good builder, is more complicated. Here is the issue. There are various solutions to this problem and some require a lot of time and effort. We’ll consider the various solutions.
One way to solve the problem is to develop your own method for picking the right builder. You will need to learn in detail the many facets of home building, the problems that occur, and the role of the home builder. Then you will need to use all that to come up with your process for picking a good home builder. You should come up with a detailed process that includes how to search for quality builder candidates, how to question them, and how to verify their qualifications. This is not easy. If you choose this option, you will need to devote a lot of time and energy to it.
Another solution is to find a guide that teaches you how to pick a good builder. The issue is that there’s not much out there, at least not nearly in depth enough. Yes, you will be able to find some articles on the internet listing the top things to look for in a good home builder. But that’s just a pointing point because you’re looking for a detailed process to picking a builder to really have a shot at getting a good one.
To provide a solution to help others with this problem, I created some guides that help you pick a builder. The series is called Get-a-Builder, and there are different options, depending on the level of help you want. In these guides, I use my 25 plus years of experience to help you get a builder that’s right for you, in turn, helping you get the build and home you want. The guide with the best value is How to Find, Interview, and Vet a Home Builder. It includes an advanced questionnaire for interviewing your builder candidates. The questionnaire has over 100 possible queries to ask your potential builders. Also, after each question, facts and tips are given so that you understand exactly what you’re asking the builder and to provide you with valuable insider information.
Pick a Builder
After educating yourself and deciding the path you want to take to get a builder, it’s time to put it into practice. Whatever method you choose to pick a builder, make sure the adequate effort is put into vetting the builder. There are 5 characteristics and qualities that need to be assessed closely to find a good builder.
Communication- Are they logical, makes the effort to listen and understand?
Organization- Are they put together, arranged, in-order?
Time management- Are they punctual?
Respectful- Do they speak to you with respect, and listen to your opinion and input?
Honesty- Do they seem truthful, not shifty or overly nervous, answer questions directly and not in a round-about way?
Trustworthy- Do you trust they will produce what they claim? Do you feel confident in them?
Choose a House Floor Plan and Lot, Negotiate, and Sign Contract
Once you have done adequate research and chosen your builder, it’s time to pick a house model/style and lot/land and negotiate a deal. The type of build -contract, custom, production , or spec.- will determine what can be negotiated.
With a spec or production build, don’t expect to make a lowball offer and get it accepted. But do inquire about any discounts they’re running that you can take advantage of. Also, you can ask for free upgrades, closing costs to be covered, a premium lot, roughing in plumbing for a bathroom in the basement, or any specials they may have going on. As far as a custom build, find out if the builder is willing to negotiate their rate/fee. The point is to find out where the builder is flexible and work a deal.
During or right after your negotiation, you will make an agreement about the particulars of your house to be built and sign it. A recommendation here is to make sure you fully understand the terms of your agreement and to use professional guidance, if necessary, to that end.
Picking the options is when things start getting fun and you’re able to add your personal style to the home. Usually, this phase occurs within the first few weeks of contract acceptance.
During this time, you’ll choose various features and finishes like flooring, paints, fixtures, appliances, and countertops. Just keep in mind, it’s easy to get carried away and go over budget, because the really nice, expensive items add up fast.
Surveys, Permits, Excavation, Foundation, Slab
The actual construction of the home may not for weeks or even months after signing the contract. The reason is permits. When obtaining the necessary permits, the builder is at the mercy of the local building department. So depending on how busy and well staffed they are, will determine how long it takes to acquire the permits.
Surveys will take place during this period too. What types of surveys are required depends on the county codes and what is necessary to build the home in the right place. Some surveys may be required before pulling permits and others may not take place till afterwards.
As soon as the permits are obtained and surveys are finished, sitework begins. Initial sitework includes excavation (digging). If the home requires a septic and well, this may be done at this time.
Once the hole is dug in the home’s location, the footings and foundation are formed and poured. These are each done separately, with the footing first and the foundation to follow.
If the home will be on a slab, utility lines will be run and then the slab will be poured over them. If the house sits over a basement, the utility lines and basement floor pour can be done after framing.
Footing and Foundation Inspection
If you live in an area with a local building department and building inspections, your homes first inspections will be completed during the footing and foundation process to inspect that all work is up to code. The inspector will verify they are according to the print, in turn, supporting the weight of house structure and premature failure of the foundation itself.
Rough Framing and Install Windows
Now it’s time for the really cool part of the home build, rough framing. For me this is the most exciting time because in a matter of days you can see the home taking shape and being erected.
If the home has a basement, steel columns and beams will be set in place to carry the floor load. Next, the subfloor system is installed with joists and sheathing.
Following the subfloor is wall construction. Walls are typically built of 2×4’s or 2×6’s, with sheathing and a protective vapor barrier installed on the exterior of the house. After the walls are up and plumbed and straightened, the roof will be framed and sheathed.
Finally, the windows will be installed framing.
Roof Installed and Drying-in the House
As soon as the house is framed, the priority is to get the roofing materials installed and to seal the exterior walls and windows to make the home impenetrable from water. This gets the house “dried-in” so that other trade work can continue despite rainy conditions and to protect the home from the effects of water damage.
After the framing of the house, there is the first walk-through. A walk-through can be two-fold. It can be to inspect the house for mistakes and workmanship. And it can be to go over the placement of electrical switches, lighting, heat/air vents, and other items which can be easily moved to your preferred location.
If you have a good builder with quality framers and materials, you will not find many problems with the framing of the house. And, if you don’t have a good builder, you could find a multitude of problems.
It’s a good idea to inspect the framing of the house thoroughly or, if you don’t know how to properly inspect a house, hire a professional to inspect the house for you. Some things to look out for are the proper location of windows, straight (flat) and plumb walls, correct style of ceiling and their heights, door sizes and their locations, and a squeak-free subfloor.
Roofing, Plumbing, HVAC, and Electrical
After the rough framing is completed, there is a barrage of subcontractors that work on the house, almost simultaneously.
Also during this period, the rough plumbing work will be done. Plumbers will run drain and supply lines and vents. They will also install tub and shower units.
Another task at this time is installing ductwork and cutting out framing for air returns for the heating and air conditioning system.
The electrical work also begins during this phase. Electricians will place the electrical boxes throughout the house, drill holes for the wiring, and then run the wires. The electrical panel will also be installed.
All these trades should work in harmony to accommodate one another, so that each of these systems are installed respecting each other. For example, wiring is generally ran after the HVAC and plumbing. Why? Wires are small, flexible, so they fit almost anywhere and around anything. Whereas, the air ducts and plumbing lines are large, take a lot more space, and can not easily change directions without cutting and adding bends to it.
Depending on your county’s/city’s building department, comes a variety of inspections. The possible inspections are framing, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical. Some building departments group them together and others have separate inspections and inspectors.
After the house has passed the inspections up to this point in time, the open ceiling, walls, and ground can be covered with their finishing materials.
Pour Garage, Basement
If your home has a basement and garage, these are often poured now. They are typically smooth finishes and usually poured on the same day, or back to back days.
Common exteriors are brick, stone, various sidings, board and batten, and stucco.
The exterior shell installation may start anytime after the sealing of exterior walls and windows, and after the sealing passes inspection (if there’s a house wrap or exterior sealing inspection). This means the exterior finishes could start sooner than it is placed on this list.
The exterior finishes do not necessarily have to be completed before the next phase of work, but the house must be sealed tight from water penetration before the next phase can begin. Why? All work from this point on can not get wet without potential problems. The 2 biggest problems from water are mold and ruined materials.
Insulate walls, (Roof Ceiling)
Insulating comes next. It’s hard to believe that this is considered a modern breakthrough in building a home, because not too many years ago houses were not insulated.
Insulation in the exterior walls, attic, and if there’s a crawl space helps maintain the temperature inside the home. Without insulation the temperature inside the house would swing dramatically after each HVAC cycle, and the home would be very inefficient.
The R-value of the insulation is a critical feature of insulation. So, the higher the R-value, the better the insulating factor is.
Depending on whether you insulate the top floor ceiling or the roof line, will determine when the attic is actually insulated. If the top floor ceiling is getting insulated, then it will not be done until after the ceiling is up, so it will hold the insulation in place. If the roof line is getting insulated, then it can get insulated before the ceiling is up.
Insulating the top floor ceiling with blown insulation is very common, but leaves the attic exposed to moisture and extreme temperatures. A new trend, as mentioned above, is having the roof line insulated instead. This is especially true if the home is located in a high humidity area and has air ducts in the attic. This method conditions the attic air space and duct work, and it keeps moisture from collecting on the air ducts, preventing mold and water damage issues.
The different types of insulation available are fiberglass, mineral-wool, cellulose, and foam. Each of them produces different R-values, and some are more moisture resistant than others.
Hang Drywall and Mud and tape
The next phase is hanging the drywall and finishing it with mud and tape. Several coats of mud are applied and sanded to achieve a smooth, flat surface.
Wall Finish Walk-Through
A walk-through/quick inspection that usually doesn’t take place, but should, is after the final sanding of the drywall. This walk-through should be done now, because if your drywall is not smooth and flat at this point it will be very difficult to get it fixed later. Why? If you realize later that you got a bad drywall finish after the walls are painted, the floor is installed, and the rest of the finishes are completed, it’s too late to try and fix a bad drywall finish.
Attic Blown-in Insulation
As mentioned earlier, if you are having insulation at the ceiling line instead of roof line, the attic insulation can be blown in now that the ceiling is in place.
Install HVAC Unit
Depending on your builder, the HVAC could be installed from now until the end of the project. But the sooner he installs it, the better it is. Why? The HVAC unit will condition the house and dry it out. This gives the house time to acclimate to it’s typical condition. Also, any of the finishes that are to be installed, such as flooring and trim, should be placed in the house to acclimate as well. If a house and the materials installed are swollen with moisture, everything will dry out, resulting in cracks, gaps, separation, and warping.
Painting begins with a primer coat and is applied before any finishes are installed in the home. A primer coat is a base paint that attaches firmly to the walls, and prepares the walls for the main, final coats of paint. It can be tinted to be the same shade as the final paint color.
Next comes the installation of hard surface flooring. Today, hard flooring comes in a wide variety of colors, styles, and materials. Some of the options in materials are natural, such as wood and stone. But, there are also many man-made materials and combinations of natural and man-made materials. Some of the man-made flooring looks very realistic when compared to its natural counterpart. And some of them are made very durable, with long warranties.
Cabinets, Doors, and Trim
Once the hard surface flooring is completed the cabinets, doors, and trim can be installed. This work is done by the finish carpenters. This is where you want someone who pays attention to detail and takes pride in his workmanship, otherwise you will end up with a bunch of ugliness.
Pour Concrete Driveway, Patio, and Sidewalk
Around this time, the driveway, patio, and sidewalk is poured. These are usually done toward the end of the project to prevent damage from occurring to them. If they are poured in freezing temperatures, they should have an additive, which helps them cure before freezing, or they should have special insulated blankets placed over them. Also, anything heavy, such as vehicles and equipment should stay off of them until cured well.
Interior Finishes- Countertops, Back Splash, and Painting
The next group of interior finishes to be done is the installation of countertops and backsplash and, then, painting.
Interior Electrical and Plumbing Fixtures
Once the final coat of paint is applied, the electrical and plumbing fixtures can be installed. Depending on your type of build, custom or production, will determine how many choices you have in fixtures, if any. Final electrical installations include lights, plugs, switches, and any low voltage finishes. Final plumbing installations include toilets, sinks, a dishwasher, and faucets.
Interior Final Installs- Mirrors, Carpet
The very last things to be installed inside are mirrors and carpets.
Grading and Landscaping
The last things to complete the outside are grading and landscaping. All final grading should drain water away from the house. Landscaping can be all inclusive or nothing. Some of your options can be sod, straw and seed, trees, bushes, flowers, and retaining walls.
Final Home Inspection
The final home inspection is conducted after the home is completely finished. After passing inspection, a certificate of occupancy is provided, allowing the home to be lived in.
The final inspection will check that installations are adequate, meeting the minimum standards of the building code. If the home does not pass inspection, the deficiencies’ will have to be corrected before the occupancy certificate is given.
Final Walk Through and Closing
The final walk through is when you go through the house, verifying everything was completed according to your agreement with the builder and according to your standards, expectations.
This is different from what the final inspector does, so don’t assume they will catch these things for you.
A big part of this walk-through is a quality check. Making sure the walls, trim, doors, floors, countertops, appliances, and driveway are not damaged and are in working order. Also, check to make sure that you received what you ordered and not a downgraded item.
Make sure to take your time during this walk-through. The builder needs you to be happy, so that he can get paid and so that you will build up his praises to others.
If the builder owns the property, there will be a closing, which is an exchange of money and ownership at a title company. The closing documents are signed and you pay the builder, giving you ownership to the property. If you have a loan, the lender will pay the builder.
Call Backs, Periodic Walk Throughs and Repairs
Call backs, periodic walk-throughs, and repairs are the only part of the construction process that actually takes place after the main construction is completed and after living in the home.
A call back is when you have a specific problem with an item in the house that is covered under the home warranty provided by the builder and “call back” the builder to fix it. It could be as simple as a door not functioning correctly, to the foundation cracking and collapsing.
Periodic walk-throughs are scheduled walk-throughs after living in the home. They could be at 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year. It is to catch things that are not functioning as they should be or have degraded prematurely.
Once call backs and walk-throughs have taken place a work order should be placed to repair or replace the defective item. Then, the appropriate tradesperson will come out to fix the issue.
Final Thoughts on the Home Construction Process
Building a home is a long process, and it can take a lot of you. Be as prepared as you can be emotionally and financially for it. If you find a good builder and know how to work with him well, your build can be a success. So perform your due diligence to help ensure that success.
Have a great home building journey!