When you're building a new home, it’s all in the details…
We’re currently building a house, and I’m learning all kinds of lessons. Even with my design experience and background, there are plenty of new realizations and things to consider when you’re building a new home you plan to live in for years to come.
Of course, there are checklists and building guidelines out there, but all of them seem to be missing essential details to consider when building a house. So today, I've put together 12 crucial items and details you need to address when building a new home.
Photo Credit: Brooks & Falotico
1. Location, Location, Location
The first item seems obvious, but I've known many people who overlooked critical aspects of their lot location and history before building a new home—only to run into significant issues down the road. Before you fall in love with a lot due to the proximity to family, schools, parks, and other amenities, take some time to research the history and details of the space.
Look at the water tables in the area by checking with the US Geological Survey. A friend hit water when digging her basement, and the house needed hundreds of yards of fill. Otherwise, she would have only had a three-foot basement (not ideal or entirely up to code). Avoid this problem by familiarizing yourself with the waterways in the area. In most cases, you'll want to avoid building in a floodplain (check the 100 Year Base Flood Elevation).
Look through online resources and even consider a trip to the city planning office if you need to. Research the history of the area where you hope to build, so you can avoid finding out you’re building on top of a former landfill or a superfund site filled with PCBs or other hazardous materials. This homework will save you a lot of headaches and heartaches down the road.
2. Lot Size & Layout
Your lot size and layout are essential details to consider when building a new house. Don't just think about your home and yard today, but assess your plans in the future. What type of patio and outdoor entertainment space will you want? Will you want a screened porch? A raised patio? A deck? What about play space?
If you have young children, a small yard and garden may seem like plenty for now, but maybe your family will grow into a swing set, a basketball standard, a hot tub, or even a pool. Consider your scalability in the future and plan with plenty of room in mind—not only for your dream home but for your dream yard and activities.
Have a green thumb? It's even more reason to plan your lot size and layout carefully. While significant landscaping may not be in your plans for the year ahead, you'll undoubtedly want to spend time on landscape design later, especially if you want a space to grow and garden. Trees get large quickly, bushes and hedges block windows, and landscape maintenance can get daunting. Keep your plans and hobbies in mind so that you get the perfect lot to fit it all in.
3. Basement Plans
Depending on your region, a basement may or may not be a necessity for your new home. In the past, basements served a mostly practical function—to house the washer, dryer, storage, and utilities. Now, basements are more of an extension of your home with expandability and scalability in the future.
A basement may serve as a game room, a yoga studio, a movie theater, wine storage, or simply extra bedrooms. It’s important to plan a basement that will serve your family needs now and well into tomorrow.
Depending on your location, you may need to include a sump pump to keep the basement dry. You’ll need quick access to your water heater, furnace, and other utilities. If you plan to finish your basement as you build your home, you’re probably already considering the layout. If you decide to wait and finish the basement later, consider pipe placement and how the footprint will translate to your future needs.
4. Room Height
High or vaulted ceilings make a room feel expansive and much larger than standard nine-foot ceilings, but many homeowners overlook the chance for higher ceilings in the home design process. If you're looking for a light, airy feel, don't forget to work with your designer and architect on this crucial detail to consider when building a new home.
Historically, ceilings were nine feet on the ground floor and sometimes only eight feet high on the second story. This standard was because lumber used to come in only eight-foot lengths. In the energy crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, ceilings on the first floor were built at eight feet to conserve materials even further. Low ceilings are why so many older houses feel cramped and small.
Now, the trend has moved away from shorter ceilings, but don’t take it for granted! Work with your building team to create the exact look and feel you want in your home. Keep in mind that you’ll need doors and windows that are scaled and placed appropriately for the ceiling height (they are easy to find but may cost more). Also, consider any treatments like exposed beams, overhead lighting fixtures, and crown moldings, which may take up space.
5. Materials Used
Using sustainable, less-toxic materials in your building is important. While you may not be ready to go full LEED-certified construction, you can still take many cues and best practices from green builders. We all know builders didn't always construct homes with sustainability in mind. Consider the issues with lead in pipes and paint, as well as asbestos used in older insulation.
While today’s home builders are decidedly MORE cognizant of health considerations in construction, there are many areas where commonly used materials might not be the best choice. Flooring, paint, and other design materials can all contain toxins; insulation and building materials may also pose health hazards.
Consider alternative building materials like concrete, bamboo, wool insulation, and rammed earth in your home construction. Use sustainable flooring like true hardwoods, tile, wool or natural carpeting, and cork. When you select paint, look for low-to-no VOC options and other renewable wall coverings.
6. Wiring and Outlet Placements
Outlets seem like such a small aspect of interior design but let me tell you—they are crucial! In fact, this is top on my list of considerations when building a new home. If you want to love your home, you need to include plenty of strategically placed outlets!
Floor outlets are so important, especially in wide, open layouts. You don’t want cords winding around your room and strewn across your floor. Today’s homeowner wants plenty of places to charge a phone, plug in a laptop, or use electronics around the house. Charging stations are a great addition, which will add long-term convenience to your home as well.
My personal favorite outlet placement is inside the bathroom drawer! Drawer outlets minimize cord clutter and help you keep your bathroom organized and clean. Include plenty of outlets in the kitchen, bedroom, and office as well. You will thank yourself in the future!
Design: Hyphen & Co
7. Daylight and Lighting
As you work with your building team, consider light and ways to maximize daylight and sunshine! Depending on the way you position your windows and place your house on the lot, you may be able to get more morning sun in the kitchen or your studio, while making the most of afternoon light in your home office. Light is an essential consideration when building a new home. Should you be planning for a greenhouse or similar, always consult a landscape professional on its placement—this is a vital decision, literally!
Don’t forget about the clever, unconventional ways to let in the light, including skylights and solar tubes. Solar tubes are specialized canister "lights" that let in natural sunlight. They've become quite popular in the last several years, and you can use them to bring in natural light anywhere you have less than 6 meters between your ceiling and roof.
Should you consider solar energy? Maybe. Solar panels have come a long way over the years and have moved into the suburban mainstream. The US Department of Energy has a helpful guide to help you assess your solar possibilities. Depending on your location and plans for your home, solar energy can help you save a significant amount on energy costs in the long term.
Photo Credit: Peter Block Architects
8. Garage Size
These days most families need at least a two-car garage, but is that really enough space? As you design your home, you’ll want to consider your garage in terms of storage and long-term planning. If you expand your home to include a pool, buy kayaks, store bikes, or get recreational vehicles, you may want more storage room in your garage. Two cars may be a tight fit in a standard double garage.
Now, a big detail to consider when building a home is an attached garage or detached? Attached garages have become so commonplace that it almost seems like a non-issue. But attached garages can also present some undue hazards to your home. Not only can they become a security concern, but they may even be harmful to your health.
Without the right ventilation system in your garage, vehicle exhaust may build up and seep into your house. Engine-powered equipment and machines (lawn equipment, recreational vehicles, generators, and of course, cars) generate Carbon Monoxide, a colorless and odorless deadly gas. You should include Carbon Monoxide detectors near your attached garage, but you may want to consider the necessity of an attached garage in your home design. A breezeway or small space between the garage and home can offer an extra safety measure. Ventilation is an absolute must.
9. Double Your Storage Space
As an interior designer, I advise planning for all the storage you think you will need and then doubling it (if possible). You can never have too much storage in your home. Anyone who’s lived in an older home or a city apartment knows the woes of insufficient storage.
If you’re designing your home, consider putting extra storage in the kitchen. Include cupboards and drawers for pots, kitchen accessories, and appliances. Pull out shelving is helpful. Include storage for trash, recycling, and other items you’d prefer to keep out of sight. As a rule, drawers are much more accessible and generally more convenient for organizing.
The same applies to bathroom organization. Use drawers rather than doors in your bathroom vanities. You'll find many more places to stash bathroom clutter, and it will stay out of the way. Include plenty of storage for towels, linens, and other necessities. Built-in storage always looks more beautiful than storage containers you add on later.
Photo Credit: Paul Bates Architects
10. Windows & Window Treatments
Among the surprising details to consider when building a new home are the type of window treatments you’re going to use. You may be wondering, do you need to plan window treatments into your home design? In short, yes. It’s a good idea to consider your plan for window treatments as early in the process as possible.
Window treatments can affect wall thickness, layout, and materials used. Built-in wired shades require thicker wall cavities. You’ll also need to consider the insulation around your windows and if the specialized treatments will fit appropriately.
Consider the window placement, the size of your windows, and maintenance as well. Look for windows that open inward for easy cleaning and that protect your home from energy loss. Energy-efficient windows are standard in most home construction, but it may be worth it to invest in the highest-quality windows possible.
11. Smart Home Solutions
There are so many smart home technology options now. From built-in heating systems, to sound systems, to security, you can put technology to work for you in your home. How do you choose which areas of your home need automation? Look at your comfort level with technology. Keep in mind that technology is continually updated, so the state-of-the-art home system you install this year may be out-of-date in a decade.
That said, there are many ways that smart technology is convenient for your home. If you feel comfortable using an app to control the temperature or lighting in your home, then a smart thermostat like Nest or a lighting controller like Ecobee Switch+ may be an ideal option. If you use Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, or Apple’s HomeKit, the Ecobee synchs up with the devices in a simple light switch.
Home security solutions like SimpliSafe and ADT Pulse are another area where smart technology shines for your home. These systems allow you to check your home security from your phone or tablet, giving you peace of mind no matter where you are.
There are several all-in-one solutions that sync everything into one platform. Crestron and Control4 are two of the more popular options. These smart systems let you control audio, lighting, HVAC, security, and more. Work with an expert to ensure you understand how to fully use your system for the maximum benefit in your new home.
12. Long-Term Plans
When you’re designing and building a new home, the most significant considerations are your long-term plans. Of course, none of us know what the future will hold, but do your best to design not just for today but for tomorrow.
Do you plan on a growing family? An expanding at-home business? A hobby to take you into your retirement years? Include these lifestyle factors into your home plans. Or perhaps you’re designing your home as a starter house, knowing you’ll likely move sometime in the next 5-10 years. These plans should factor into your choices, including materials, design, and the scalability of your home.
If you're building for the long-haul, you may choose a standing seam metal roof (more expensive but longer lasting). If you have children and pets, you may select flooring that's easier to maintain and holds up to traffic. Those who plan to sell in a few years will want to consider the resell value and unique customization that might not appeal to future owners.
When you’re designing and building a new home, you ultimately want a place that feels like yours. You want a healthy space to live and thrive. You want to create a home that accommodates your lifestyle, feels like a haven, and provides a place of respite and renewal.
So, what details are most important to you when it comes to home design? Are there some items that you would add to this list? I’d love to hear below! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get in on all the latest!