What should we be considering when we build our own home?

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By: ArmchairBuilder.comCC BY 2.0
My husband and I are looking at building our first home. We’re both young professionals, with no kids on the scene (at the moment anyway). I just wanted to ask the Homies about any experiences that they’ve had when building their first homes (good and bad), and what they wish they’d known/considered first.

Obviously we’ll design the house the way we want it, and will inevitably wish we’d done some things differently, but what should we be looking out for/considering when we build our own home?

For interests sake, we live in Australia, so any legal considerations specific to your locality will probably not be particularly helpful. –Naomi

Comments on What should we be considering when we build our own home?

  1. I am in Australia and we are looking at doing the same + kids in tow though.
    I don’t have any advice, but thankyou for asking the question, could have written it word for word myself and I will be following the responses with interest!
    Goodluck with your dream house build! 🙂

  2. Haven’t built a home myself, but my parents did when I was still living with them. One tip/trick I know they have is don’t feel like you have to put in all the high end finishes right away. Building a home requires a large chunk of money to start so if you feel stretched, go for the lower end flooring or cabinets, you can always upgrade later.

    My mom and dad did this with their kitchen and living room. They had the layout they wanted but not necessarily all the finishing touches when the house was built. Laminate flooring and cheep carpeting, formica countertops. Now 15 years later (and with no more kids at home to muck up everything) they have the marble kitchen floor and stone counters. The cheap carpet has been upgraded to hardwood.

    That’s all the advice I have to offer, good luck on your dream home!

  3. I would look into what kind of incentives and tax breaks there might be for using eco-friendly or alternative power sources. Where I live you can get the power company to buy back solar generated power, and there are federal tax write offs for high energy efficient appliances, windows and insulation. Since you’ll be buying all that stuff anyway, it might make sense to be kind to the environment AND get a price break for it!

    • Thanks, it’s definitely worth looking into appliances etc. My area does have a solar buy back scheme, but when we sat down it worked it out on a cost-basis factoring our current energy usage, it would take something silly like 30 years of the government buying back extra power for us to break even on the install costs, so it’s not really an outlay option. But it’s still worth considering if install prices drop in the future.

  4. As a (commercial!) real estate advisor, here are the major things I think I would check twice if I was building my home:

    The young-married-couple-symptom: When embarking on such a big project, it’s easy to get carried away by your dreams. You picture yourself in ten years, with four babies, two dogs and a turtle. While I really wish for you all your dreams will come true, the hardest part is to look at the steps between your situation right now and what you wish it will become. Your house will be the first of those steps and should first adress your needs and situation right now, and open the way for medium term projects. If you really want four bedrooms in your dream house, maybe consider building two for now but think about how an annex could be added later on. Or if you really want this huge family room, why not make it a master bedroom for now and tear the wall down when your family will really need this extra space.

    The ”why not” and ”as well”s during construction: Ideas don’t stop coming in because you’re starting construction. Actually, it’s worst because your start really feeling the space with the walls up. However, changing something last minute just because you think ”We’re already building a deck, why not have it go all the way to the garage” or ”We’re building a garage, we might as well make it 4 seasons” is going to KILL your budget. First, you’re more likely to make impulsive decisions and second, it will cost you more than if you had planned it in the first place: you can be sure your contractor will charge you extra!

    Under estimating contengencies: Budget at least 10% contengencies. I’m serious. In your ”official” budget (i.e. the one done by the professionals) they will most likely have a 5-7% contengencies. Don’t risk it and be sure you can handle a little bit more. Worst case scenario: you’ll end up under budget and you’ll actually have money left to furnish the place, hehe.

    About the professionals: Get references. More than one. Preferably from people you know. Go see previous houses they’ve done. Pay attention to details. You will also need to challenge them. It’s a business relationship, allthough it’s great when you can have a good time with your contractor, they don’t have to be your friend. You’re a client. It doesn’t matter he’s the one who knows what he’s doing. If he’s not up to your expectations, fails to follow instructions or does not finish the job properly, speak up. Contractors tend to do most of the job, get paid, than leave for another contract and leave you with an ok, but not so perfect kitchen. Only pay them when the job is done to your satisfaction. Yes, they might have to take that entire tile wall and do it again because the guy failed to do it properly in the first place. It’s not your problem, it’s his. You don’t have to live with a badly made wall because someone else (which you are paying) doesn’t know how to do his job. And if you,re not sure you can handle the stress of being the picky custommer, have someone do it for you!!

    Good luck on your big project, it’s so exiting!

    • yes, yes, yes!

      caveat: i’ve never built a house (well, i have, but it was 10’x14′ one-room in a place with no legal restrictions, so it doesn’t really help with this question). but i’m planning to and have been researching it for…kind of forever as a hobby. i think the above covers so much important stuff.

      including this, but i want to emphasize it: be careful about overbuilding. you may have a great idea of what you need, but in my experience very few people fully utilize their houses (including those who have built custom). my concept of space and necessity got a big shock when i realized that our family of 5 living in a 1400 square foot house (not small, but tiny compared to average new construction in my area) didn’t use two whole rooms at all. you could cut 300 sq ft off our house and no one would notice. nevermind what we could happily live in if it were well-designed, which it is not. (and my life would be so much easier without the upkeep of space we don’t need.)

      not to say your needs should be exactly the same as ours or anything, but to say that you should seriously evaluate them. and that you should probably be prepared for a lot of push-back from the professionals, who are used to building big, and who don’t want you being unsatisfied after the fact and giving them bad reviews when they could throw a 4th bathroom in “just in case”. also, more space=more money, so there’s that.

      another thing on the money-saving side: simpler is cheaper. which, sure, sounds obvious, but think about things like – a rectangle is cheaper to build than something with two rectangles, which is cheaper than a complex shape. and a single roof seam (which only works on that single rectangle) is quite a bit cheaper than a roof with valleys, etc. if you line up your plumbing it is much cheaper (i.e. bathroom and kitchen share a wall or are adjacent, laundry hookups in the kitchen, etc).

      except when it comes to long-term costs, when simpler is not usually cheaper – i.e. better insulation will pay for itself in climate control costs, but you might want to calculate how quickly (or don’t bother, if you are planning on living here forever). look into passive solar design – the basic concepts can be built into almost any stock design for little cost, and you don’t have to be aiming for a net-zero house to take advantage of a little natural energy savings.

    • While I overall agree with Julie F., I do want to note one thing: while I am not personally a contractor, my father has done restoration/historical contract work for years, and I must say, there are times that you SHOULD listen to your contractor, rather than forcing him to do what you want.

      Now, my father is extremely picky/has major attention to detail, so he has been known to get rid of guys who don’t do things properly the first time around. Oh, and he would NEVER leave someone with something that’s just “okay” and go on to another job, unless the client had insisted on the something being in that certain way that he only deemed “okay” in the end.

      Example: maybe you come up with some crazy design that you’re dying to do, but it isn’t really possible/practical–like it literally won’t work. If your contractor says “that can’t be done,” don’t automatically write him off. Sure, there are occasions where he might just not know how to do something, or might not want to get involved in something, but there are other times where maybe it’s because it’s not safe or really can’t be achieved the way you think it could be. Examples might include: issues with load-bearing walls and where you place stairs, windows, and doors.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to address my question, much appreciated!

      Luckily, with your first point, we are being pretty realistic. The package we are looking at will suit us for the next maybe 5 years as is, with options to change the setup later if required (or sell and rebuild something that will, which is always an option).

      But since we haven’t started construction, it’s good to be aware of the why/why not situation so that we don’t get trapped adding extras that could be better saved for later. We are trying to be realistic in terms of what we will actually use, knowing that we are currently renting comfortably in quite a small space, so we do have some concept of what areas we will use, so hopefully that gives us enough insight to not go crazy with extras we don’t need. Also, we’re being pretty strict with our budget, so that should help too.

    • On the building two bedrooms now with an idea for adding on in the future — my dad’s family is in the building business as is my husband’s family, and often times in my experience, a contractor will be happy to draw up plans for your house (with just the two bedrooms) and then ask him to draft up a possible annex (or another floor!) for you guys to revisit and build on in the next ten years or so. Also, know that if the master suite of your dreams isn’t in your budget now, maybe have that be a part of your annex or remodel for the future!

      For example, my parents bought the house I grew up in when it was just a 1 story, 4 room (not 4 bedroom, 4 rooms: kitchen, living space, bedroom, bathroom) house. They lifted it up, added some more space to the main floor & dug out a basement. They also added an attached garage. The main floor was then a living space with a front entry, a dining room (which was my bedroom until the basement was finished), their bedroom, the kitchen & a bathroom. When the basement was finished, both of our bedrooms were moved into the basement, which also had a full bathroom, a rec room and a laundry area. I was about 3 when the basement was finished. My parents old bedroom upstairs was turned into my dad’s office & my mom’s craft room. Then, when I was in high school, my parents were ready to add a second floor to the house. They also built out a little bit to create a larger laundry area/mudroom by the back door, and they did a big upgrade to the kitchen. The second floor is a grand master bedroom suite with a sitting room. I moved my bedroom into my parents old room in the basement because it was a little bigger, and my dad moved his office into my old bedroom. Oh, and with each addition onto the house, they also added storage. Places for practical storage is SO important, especially if you’re thinking about maybe having kids!

      So, I absolutely agree with the idea of build what you need for right now… and know that your house will be able to evolve with you and really become what you want it to be. Maybe the plans your contractor draws up for you for the annex/remodel phase of building isn’t even what you want anymore by the time you’re ready to embark on it… but it’ll give you a good jumping point and he can keep those plans vague enough to modify and change up when you’re at the point to add on. A house is a really great investment (my parents often say that their house *is* their retirement plan)!

      In the end, my biggest advice is to have fun with the process! Allow yourself to relax, and don’t get too bogged down with details. If you can avoid it, try not to put yourself in a situation where you HAVE to move in by a specific date. Construction has a way of getting away from deadlines, often only by a couple days, but sometimes by much longer. If you’re able to stay flexible, this whole process can be a lot of fun.

  5. Oh, and something else: If you’re on a budget, you might want to consider one of those pre-fab houses. All the pannels are done in a shop, than assembled on site. It can be much cheaper than starting from skratch and you still can adjust the initial design to your specific needs.

  6. My parents built their home a little over 10 years ago, and things they considered were:

    – making sure that the professionals did the bare minimum that they couldn’t handle/make the space livable. For example, my father (who is very handy) decided to have the basement initially unfinished, save a full bathroom, and then finished the rest himself a few months after we moved in.
    – consider future upgrades and make sure the requisite plumbing/electric/etc is there. Want to take that bonus room and make it a functional office? Have the contractors run the essential hardware in anticipation of your upgrade. Saves you the time/money of doing it later.
    – electric outlet locations! Consider where you will need to have outlets in places like your kitchen, bathroom, outdoors, and living spaces, as well as how many you’ll need. For example, my family uses those electric candles in the windows at Christmas, so they had electric outlets installed underneath each of the front windows.
    – realize that your preferences will change over time! There’s no shame in going back and revamping what you did in a few years because your needs have changed. For major, structural things, it can be trickier, but not impossible.
    – visit your house in various stages of development to make sure things are how you want them. Particularly, once the framing is in, walk through and make sure the doorways, walls, spaces are what you wanted them to be. It is much easier to tweak before all the “guts” (drywall, electric, etc) go in.
    – finally, pick contractors and professionals that have certifications, excellent reviews, and work *with* you whilst realizing that they also work *for* you. If they treat you like anything less than that, won’t explain to you why you can’t have this here or that there other than “cuz,” I would be hesitant.
    – Also, make sure you discuss what the process would be if you are not satisfied with their work. Note, I don’t mean “I changed my mind” but “none of these cabinets were hung straight” or “why is my floor not level?” type issues. Any contractor worth their salt will say that they will do everything in their power to make it right (and follow through on it). Similarly, any conversations about plans, changes, addendums, etc should be documented in the unfortunate but unlikely scenario you need to seek a legal course of action for something that was not done correctly. (Note: not a legal professional of any kind! Please research your local laws and legal recourse. This was just the saga that my parents had to go through after a garage floor & drain was improperly installed and had to be ripped up and reinstalled after legal recourse.)

    • While we aren’t really handy in terms of big jobs, my dad’s pretty good with little things, so we are intentionally not factoring in things like extra shelving etc, knowing that if it’s required, it can always be added later with little fuss.

      As for extra hardware, at least for the mean time, we are planning on using one of the bedrooms as a study, so we have talked to the builder about moving the phone port into that room as well as additional power outlets so that we don’t have extention cords and power boards running everywhere!

  7. I highly recommend The Not So Big House book series. My parents used them while building their new house, and I recently borrowed them while remodeling my house. They have a lot of advice about layout and about making a comfortable home, while not making it over the top. I loved the series, because it made me really think about what we needed in a house, instead of what we “should” want.

    • Yes yes yes! The “Not So Big House” books (by Sarah Susanka) are excellent; see if your library has them. They’re about the design and details that make a house function well and feel like home rather than just focusing on square footage. As an architecture major, that’s one thing that always bugged me about Extreme Makeover Home Edition: it was primarily about grandeur and size rather than thoughtful design. (In fairness, though, you don’t have time for thoughtful design when you’re building something in one week for television.)

  8. Make sure there are clauses in your contract that hold your contractor accountable for time lost, because they will over-promise like nobody’s business. We didn’t do this and it’s one of our biggest regrets as we’re now months behind schedule and having to absorb the costs. Put a clause in your contract that will hold the contractor responsible for a specific amount weekly when they go over the agreed upon completion date, and another one holding them responsible for all costs associated with negligent mistakes that cause delays (for example, ordering wrong size windows, which is what happened to us). Pay a lawyer for a couple of hours to go over the contract before you sign it and make sure that you are protected. Visit the construction site often, you will catch little mistakes that are easily fixed in the field but would drive you nuts if you missed them.

    • Yep, definitely made sure there’s a clause in the contract that also stipulates how much they will pay us for delays, and the exact amount of time they have to complete the project before this clause comes into effect. I’m lucky in that my husband is a solicitor, so he’s pretty good at finding clauses that will protect us/screw us over so that we can renegotiate them.

      And yes, will probably be visiting the build site most days. My parents have built a few houses, so I’m sure they’ll be checking it out too, and pointing out anything we might have missed.

  9. Having always lived in places with little storage space, the first thing I check in a house is where I can comfortably and accessibly store out of sight 1)shoes for the current season and 2) vacuum cleaner, bucket and rags. In a dream home, I’d have a full utility room just for that 🙂
    Then, I’d say at least one bathroom or toilet for each floor.
    I second the advice given above about transforming rooms as your family grows and changes. Maybe you could leave the attic unfinished and then transform it in bedrooms, for example.
    Good luck on this wonderful adventure!

    • In Australia, we tend to have a slightly different standard house design, so they are generally only one level, with no “downstairs” or attic area. Just smaller houses I guess. That said, we have factored in two bathrooms – an ensuite for us, and another “main” bathroom (albeit the same size). Also have a walk-in-wardrobe, so can hide all of our clothes pretty easily, and a designated broom cupboard, which I’m asking to get an extra power outlet put into so that our cordless vaccuum can charge there hidden away.

  10. My now-husband and I started our first home before we got married and got to move in about two weeks after our wedding and have been in our home for about 6 weeks now, so all this is very fresh in my mind. We went through a builder, and did not design our own floor plan, but some of the advice transfers pretty easily.

    First, look at your budget, talk finances, decide what you can afford for a mortgage, etc because unless you’re very wealthy, you’ll be paying on this house for quite a long time and while you can refinance, it can cost to do so and it may or may not be advantageous at any given time to do so because of interest rates, etc. I would recommend talking to at least 3 mortgage companies and finding out as much as you possibly can before moving on to the actual building process.

    Next, you need to find where you want to live. Look in a lot of different neighborhoods/areas. Pay attention to all kinds of things: traffic, schools (even if you don’t have kids yet, you may choose to and good schools are a selling point to many people when you move, so even if you’re child-free, you may not want to live zoned to the crappiest school because it’ll be harder to sell your house down the road). Drive the area at all times of day and night. You don’t want to come home to somewhere that you’re afraid to be outside at night. If you see people outside, stop and ask them about the neighborhood. Most people who live somewhere will be pretty honest.

    Once you find a place you like, then you need to get into the nitty gritty of what you want to build. Since we were working with a builder with set floor plans, there wasn’t *as much* customization as you have, but what we took into consideration was how much it would cost to upgrade something later versus how much it would cost for the builder to do it. Usually on the face it’s cheaper for the builder to do it, but remember, you’ll end up paying interest on those upgrades for many years and at that point is it really worth it? My husband and I really only opted for structural upgrades. For example, we had them vault the ceiling to a higher height in our living area. That is not something we could do later, but we did not have them put in ceramic tile or wood floors, because they had limited choices and we can always change flooring and countertops later.

    My husband had a number in his head of how much he was willing to spend on upgrades and we didn’t go above that number. I poured over the upgrades list over and over again and we talked and compromised on several things. Over and over we found ourselves asking “do we want to pay 30 years interest on this item?” Most of the time, we said no.

    As others have said, your tastes will change, and thankfully most things in a house are changeable as long as it has good bones. You can paint new colors, put in new floors, new countertops, refinish cabinetry, even replace the cabinetry all together. You can get a new toilet, new light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and a whole host of other stuff more easily than you’d think. Focus mostly on your layout. While you *can* move walls later, it’s harder how the house is laid out will make a difference in how you feel in it.

    Lastly, get an independent inspector and do phased inspections. I felt so much more confident knowing that someone who knows building codes was going through my house with a fine toothed comb before the slab was poured, before it was sheet-rocked, and before we closed on the home. As much as I tried to learn about the building process, I couldn’t know everything and knowing that someone was there to explain to me how things were supposed to go and advocate for me with the builder to get them to fix things makes a huge difference!

    Good luck!

    • First of all, congratulations on your new home! I’m sure it’s great to be finally settled and living in it.

      We are going through a builder, but we have had quite a bit of le-way in changing the floor plan to suit our needs, which didn’t really add any cost (only the cost of a non-structural wall which was negligible and gave us a lot more storage space in our kitchen).

      And yes, location was a BIG thing for us. We currently rent in a bit of a dodgy area, but it’s close to everything and is fine for a non-permanent stay. But when building, we want a safe, NICE area, which is still convenient (which was actually tough to find considering we work in an older part of the city, with no new development nearby), but the area we’ve decided on is a beautiful new estate, and as a bonus, my old school is just down the road (and it was a really good school!), so for resale/future considerations, it seems to meet that pretty well.

      I do like your concept of paying interest on every upgrade for 30 years too. I guess we’ve never really considered it that way, and it’s definitely worth thinking about!

      Enjoy your new home!

  11. I agree with Phaedra about the alternate power systems. We got solar panels and even now, in the heat of the summer, I haven’t paid more than $20 a month for electricity (I live in the desert and it gets over 100 degrees F regularly). We were able to get a tax credit for the panels so it worked out well for us.

    The other thing you should do is think creatively about where you put your electrical plugs. We put one in the pantry and some in the closets so you can hide things that need to recharge. The other thing I saw (but wasn’t able to do, unfortunately) was an electrical outlet in a drawer of the vanity in the master bathroom so you can truly hide your blow dryer, curling iron, electric razor, etc.

    And, once the electrical outlets are in, pay attention to where they’re placed and think about the furniture that will go there. For example, we had them move the outlets in the master bedroom because they would have been behind the bed–since our bed is large and wooden, they would have been useless.

    Also, to piggy back what ty said about storage, think about it in every room, including bathrooms. We got a pedistool sink in the downstairs bathroom and realized within the first month of moving in that having no storage for toilet paper, soap, etc. was a pain. My husband just replaced the sink with a prefabricated sink/cabinet combo, and it’s much more functional. We also had to be creative about how to solve some of storage situations in other parts of the house. For example, we have no large linen closet, so all the towels are downstairs (we have 2-story home), which is a pain, but works until we can build a linen closet upstairs.

    Pay attention of the functionality of the large storage spaces you do have. We have a very large pantry and master bedroom closet, but there are few shelves in both, so there’s a lot of wasted space. Have someone come out to put in shelves, drawers, etc. into both so that there is little to no wasted space.

    Before they put the dry wall up, do a frame walk and take pictures of what’s in the walls so you know where the water lines are and where the studs are.

    If you have pets, think about where their food and other accoutrements will go. My kitties eat on a counter in the laundry room, but I forgot to put an electrical outlet there so their filtered water bowl isn’t near the food. If I had thought about it ahead of time, I would have figured out where their litter boxes would go and given them little closets of their own for them that are somehow ventilated.

    Good luck! It’s stressful, but exciting.

    • Thank you. Storage is a big one for us. We actually sat down and looked at the plan we’re thinking of using, and calculated exactly how much space we’d have compared to what we have where we are now, and it’s looking pretty good for now.

      And I definitely hear you on the huge shelf gaps in the pantry. We have a walk-in pantry in our current place, but it wastes SO much space with the shelving spaced out as much as it is. We could easily fit 3 times as much in there with better shelving!

  12. I personally haven’t built my own home but I watched my parents go through it a few years ago. From watching their experience..

    * If you want custom work done, you may want to consider going with a contractor that does NOT specialize in those cookie cutter subdivisions (you know, the ones you drive through and only the front door and the siding color differ between the houses). My parents hired a contractor that specializes in those subdivisions because he bid a little less than the alternative. They had to go on-site EVERY DAY and almost EVERY DAY caught them cutting corners and doing things how they normally would for the cookie cutter houses rather than doing things according to her custom specifications (which were done with her company’s architect). Might have just been that guy but they’re still finding things that were missed. For example, the upstairs HVAC just dumped condensation down the inside of the walls through the main floor to the basement due to a hose that was sealed with duct tape rather than the sealant that was specified on the plans hence it overflowed the drip pan.

    * If you’re doing a basement, it doesn’t have to be finished out of the gate. But if you intend to finish it at some point, have them rough in the plumbing when you build. Saves you a lot of money and headache down the road when you do go to finish the basement.

    * If you’re wondering whether or not that interior wall really needs sound proofing? It does. There’s one small wall of the kitchen pantry at my parents that they didn’t think needed sound proofing so they didn’t do it. The main water lines for the on-suite master bath run through that wall so now every time anyone showers in that bathroom it echoes through the kitchen on the main floor.

    * Counter-tops, flooring, crown-moldings… these types things can easily be upgraded later down the road. Better insulation, higher quality HVAC, installing that stove hood ventilation or bathroom exhaust fan… these sort of things are so much easier and cheaper to do during construction rather than backtracking.

    * Educate yourself! Educate yourself! Educate yourself! And don’t be shy about going on-site during construction unannounced… That doesn’t mean get in the way of construction, but this is your home and your money, you have every right to witness/supervise any part of it you wish.

    * Think about your life and what’s important to you. Yeah a home theater might sound really cool but if you’re not the type of people to utilize it then it would be a wasted expense. Huge decks are awesome but only if you’re the type of folks that use them. Maybe you’d love a sunroom for your morning coffee but couldn’t care less about entertaining and hosting dinner parties, maybe rethink that formal dining room in the plans. Keep re-sale in mind to up to a point, but make it a house for YOUR family and YOUR lifestyle.

    Good luck and have fun!!! 🙂

  13. We want to build, and my grandma, who has designed and built 4 houses, gave me this list of things she kept in mind.

    Aging- if you know you’re going to live in the house forever, plan accordingly. Do you really want to lug yourself up a dozen+ stairs when you’re 70? Could you maintain a huge house at 80?

    Growth- When you have kids, they’ll probably have kids and a spouse too. If you want the holiday get-togethers to happen at your place, make sure your kitchen, dining room and family room can handle a growing brood.

    storage- if you have lots of stuff now, crammed every which where or use a storage unit, keep that in mind. Plan for larger closets and build attic and pantry spaces with your extra stuff in mind.

    more growth!- not sure if you’re finished having children? Either build the extra room(s) now, or make sure your floor plan is easy to add on to, without disrupting the other rooms and the flow of the house.

    ignore fads- just because something looks sooo cool on pinterest, doesn’t mean you want to use, clean and maintain it forever. If you do sell, how will that “conversation piece” or “luxury” feature perform on the real estate market?

    Leave some space free- Instead of finishing the basement, or attic right away, leave them unfinished. Get to know your house and how your family uses it. Then finish that basement into the perfect playroom, or the perfect bar, or craft room.

    The yard!- Folks always forget the yard. Do you want the sun pouring in in a certain way? Do you really want your neighbors THAT close? What if you decide you want to raise some crops or animals? Enough driveway space for when the kids start driving? Where can you store your lawn equipment? What if the kids want a play space? Do you really want to push a lawn mower up a slope?

  14. I don’t build houses, but I do help homeowners of 30+ year-old homes solve major problems arising from original construction. Most of the serious issues I see come from one of two sources:
    1. Water. There is NOTHING worse for your house than water. Spend some serious time talking to your architect/engineers about how you’re going to move rain/snow water away from the building. A good drainage plan starts on the roof and extends to the edge of the property line. If you’re planning on capturing rain to water landscaping, check with your local water department first. In a lot of places (in the US at least) rain and snow water belong to the water department and you can be fined for collecting it.
    2. Trees. Think very carefully where you plant trees, and what type you plant. A good rule of thumb is that a tree’s root system will be as big and wide as its canopy. That means if you plant an oak 10 feet from your house, hoping for shade in 20 years, by that time you’ll have roots pushing against and probably weakening your foundation. Also don’t plant that oak over the top of your water or sewer service lines. Eventually you will have to dig those lines up to make repairs, and it is heartbreaking to have to take down beautiful mature trees to do it. If you’re not sure what type of trees to plant where, call your local nursery. They probably have an arborist on staff that can help you at no cost.

    • As an Aussie who recently moved to Canada reading this – I LOVE all the comments about basements and attics and snow! They are in fact totally irrelevant for most if not all of Australia, but I find it so interesting. Because now I understand why everyone has their gutter drain pipes ending so far away from the house!!!!

      To Original Poster:
      – recently watched an available online movie called “We the Tiny House People”. Whilst it may be so tiny to be a bit extreme, there are so many amazing storage ideas in the houses in here. Also, makes you realise how sneaky you can be with dual purposed things. Even tho in oz we have huge blocks a lot of the time, and it’s more yard than house, you can totally get away with less.
      – talk to an eco housey person about ways to integrate your garden into energy saving. Like planting trees to block the harsh summer sun, or growing vines on certain outer walls to insulate if it’s colder.

      Totally keep us updated! I love to hear about Aussie alternative builds.

  15. I’ve never built a house in my adult life, but I lost many childhood hours to my parents building 2 houses. In one of the houses, we did everything but the framework, drywall/texture, and carpeting (I think). I know we did the plumbing, electrical, roofing, painting, and tileing. I think we even installed the cabnets. For the house where we didn’t do most of the work, there was still a lot of work put into it. Just be prepared for the work, find reputable contractors. Even if you hire someone to do all the work, be prepared for the time commitment. There is still lots you have to do when you build your own home!

  16. Well first, since this is on “offbeat home,” I think it’s important to specify what you mean by “building our own home.” Do you mean that you’re thinking of making a cob or a mud brick home, or one of the other “DIY” type homes, literally doing almost all of the building yourself? Do you mean you’ll be working with an architect to design the home from the ground up and then hiring contractors to build all of it? Do you mean that you’ll be having someone help you design it and then completing some work yourself but hiring experts for things like plumbing and electric? There are so many extremely varied things that “building our own home” can mean, and the advice you need really depends on what direction you’re going with it.

    I personally really adore quirky, strangely-shaped spaces, and so I’m really interested in cob-type homes – something where playing with the shape a little isn’t going to radically increase the price.

    • Sorry, probably should have clarified that a bit better! We’re working with a builder, but changing the floor plan quite a bit to suit our needs. Almost all of the work will be done by contractors, aside from a few little things at the end that we’ll do ourself (extra storage units etc).

      Admittedly, we tend more to offbeat lite. Although, almost all new houses around our area look the same, the one we are looking at is a beautiful hybrid of modern architecture and materials mixed with much more old-school styling. (The layout reminds me a little of my husband’s grandmother’s place, which is just teeming with old-school charm!).

  17. I stumbled across this list/forum thread one day and it has a LOT of awesome ideas: Little things that get forgotten

    One thing I have found helpful: Someone thought to put an outlet at the end of the peninsula in our kitchen. It is SUPER AWESOME for keeping the toaster and crockpots useable! But in general, making sure to have a lot more outlets than you think you can possibly need, underloading circuits, keeping a couple extra spaces available on your circuit box, and having them well-labelled. Electricity has been a huge obnoxiousness in my life apparently for that to be the first thing to come to mind!

  18. Something to think about is how you use your current home. For example, in the kitchen, does more than one person cook at a time? If so, you’d likely want to set up the kitchen slightly differently than the standard ‘kitchen triangle’ setup as that doesn’t work the greatest for two cooks.

    Do you do a lot of things in your bedroom? If not, maybe consider a smaller bedroom. However, make sure that a king size bed can still fit relatively comfortably (even if, like my SO and I, you sleep in a full) as that can be very important for selling your house later on.

    Do you like to cook while talking to someone else who isn’t cooking, or while watching TV? Maybe an open plan would be best. But if you prefer to keep the kitchen in the kitchen, don’t be afraid to buck the trend of the open layout (but it once again might be a good idea if after knocking down one wall or so, it was possible).

    Also, consider a mud room if you live anywhere it gets remotely cold or wet. First off, they’re incredibly useful (especially if you’ve got a utility sink in there too!) and help keep the rest of your house clean. Second off, it’s a great selling point for down the road.

    • Cooking together is a big thing for us, and that was the one thing we were prepared to concede money to upgrade before construction. We spend a lot of time there, so we wanted to make sure there was enough useful space for at least 2 of us to work without getting in each other’s way!

  19. My aunt and uncle built their house with the idea that they’d be there forever. They have a den off the kitchen that could very easily be converted into a first-floor bedroom. They added an outdoor entrance to the upstairs through the deck, so someday the whole upstairs could be, theoretically, converted into an apartment and rented out when they need to be on the first floor only. Another friend of mine added a dog shower to her laundry room when she remodeled their house. It’s proved useful for washing out litter boxes and fish tanks as well as muddy puppies!

  20. Insulation in the inside walls. Seriously. Especially if you have an open (or openish) floor plan. In the last house my parents built my Dad paid the drywall guys an extra $20 to put insulation (which he also bought fairly cheaply) into the inside walls, particularly the interior living room walls where the television/sound system would be housed at. This little step cut down so much noise.
    Builders (at least the one’s I’ve dealt with) don’t usually pay attention to the effect those high ceilings will have on noise and echoes. A little interior insulation will go a long way to dampen that effect and give everyone a little more peace and quiet.

  21. We just bought a house! When we were house hunting, one of the most important things we looked for was a good location (out of the way, not particularly tiny, etc) for our cats’ litterboxes. I know it sounds silly, but so many of the places we looked at had NO good spaces for them, and we didn’t want our litter boxes just sitting out in the open or in an awkward area. We now have one in the laundry room and one in our basement bathroom. If you have pets, you might want to keep things like that in mind.

    One thing that we’ll be doing in the near future is hard wiring our house for internet. My husband is a web designer and requires super fast internet connection, and we tax our wireless quite a bit (we’re a very digital, gadget-y house!). Running those cables might be something to consider!

  22. Unfortunately I don’t have experience to share as we simply bought a flat, but a fun way to “prepare” is to watch Grand Designs with Kevin McCloud – it is very inspirational and focuses on architecture and the actual process of construction rather than drama.

  23. My parents built their own home when I was in elementary/middle school. Maybe this goes without saying, but it is a huge time suck. There was always a meeting for them to go to, tile or carpet to source, this and that to consider, and it took over two years. You are literally responsible for coming up with, researching, and considering every tiny detail.

    I think building a house is a super awesome and exciting project, but be prepared for it to be a full time job.

  24. Think about anything that will go inside the walls, its possible but a pain in the butt to add those later, while it’s easy to put them in before the walls are closed up. Extra power points – think about Christmas trees and where vacuum cleaners would need to be plugged in (for that matter, where vacuums and other bulky stuff will be stored), think data / phone points and antenna points. When placing those, it’s good to lay them out around the room in such a way that you’ll be able to rearrange furniture later on, without being stuck to one spot where the TV etc, MUST be plugged in.

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