Especially if you’re a first-timer (see related post titled “Home Building Advice for First Timers“), but also if you’re a veteran, you’re going to have some “why didn’t I think of that” moments after it’s too late. Over the years I’ve kept a list of small and easy, but somewhat important, things to remember when building a home. Below is a list of 20 of my favorites, plus a few optional things to consider.
This list was created with new home construction in mind. But sometimes, “new construction” really means a spec home that was 50-80% completed and then paused for the buyer to make some final selections. In that case, it will be either be too late to incorporate some of the ideas or they’ll need to be done after the house has been turned over to you.
Other times, it means an expansion or remodel of a home. Regardless, as a checklist, it’s easy to figure out which might apply to your situation.
Securing the Sub-Floor
Insist that the builder use screws (or nail screws) and Liquid Nail to secure the sub-floor (2nd story) and the stairs. Using regular nails allows sub-floor movement over time, which leads to floor creaks when people walk on it. This is an item you can easily inspect after the upstairs flooring is laid and the stairs are constructed. If you see that a nail gun was used, talk to the building supervisor. He might have used nail screws, which emulate a screw due to coiled grooves that cause them to screw in slightly as they enter the wood. I have no issues with those.
Ask for a leftover set of each type of tile, carpet, grout, wallpaper, brick, paint and trim for future repairs and remodeling. After getting each, catalog the exact manufacturer and description of each in a document in case you need more than the leftover amount or can no longer read the label. If it’s not obviously marked, talk to the builder before the house is finished.
Similar to requesting extra materials and cataloging information about each, do the same with the various paint colors used throughout the house. It will only be a matter of time before you have some wall damage or do some minor remodel that requires some paint touch-up. I know Lowe’s and Home Depot can match the color using a small sample, but it’s not always a perfect match.
Capture the brand, paint type (ie – satin, gloss, high-gloss, etc) and color. If you can get eyes on the paint cans, take a photo of the front label (brand, type) and the top (often there’s a sticker with the color mix info). Even if the color has a fancy name, make sure to get the actual codes to mix the color from scratch. That’s because the fancy names don’t last forever.
Lights, Switches and Power Outlets
Check the location of lights & switches. You might find some places like the pantry or other places where the planned placement of the light switch is totally inconvenient. As for power outlets, also take note of their planned location outside the house. Specific examples include the following:
- In the front part of the garage, near the driveway. This is helpful if you are installing an irrigation system and want the master controller in the front part of the garage. This is also ideal for vacuuming the cars while parked in the driveway or doing construction projects in the driveway.
- If you have (or might have) a second refrigerator or freezer that you put in the garage, think about where it might be placed and add a power outlet.
- Think about where your flowerbeds and trees will be planted. You might also want some landscape lighting. If you decide to go with low-voltage landscaping, then at least run conduit with wires from some power circuit to various places in the yard. If you go with regular 110V landscaping, then have the builder stub up a power box in strategic places from which you can run the landscape wiring.
- Don’t forget about holidays like Halloween and Christmas. If you plan to put a powered mummy rising from the grave during Halloween or want to wrap all of your front trees with lights, you’ll really benefit from a stubbed-up power outlet nearby. Similarly, if you’re interested in putting Christmas lights along your roofline, it might make sense to put a couple of external power outlet there too. If possible, put all front “holiday” power outlets on a light switch for easy on/off or timer installation. And you might want the landscape lighting to be on a different switch. So think about all of this.
- What about power outlets low on the bathroom walls near the toilet, to be used for a night light?
Pool Table Readiness
If you have a game room in the design and ever plan to put a pool table there, consider the following:
- Room Dimensions – A standard pool cue is 57” long. So with even a slight backswing, you should have 5’ of space between the pool table and any wall. A pool table is half as wide as it is long. So an 8’ table is 4’ x 8’. Such a table needs a 14’ x 18’ room to avoid hitting the walls with the pool cues. If you happen to have a half-wall or banister, pay close attention to the height. Builders might otherwise build it to 36” high, which is probably enough higher than your pool table that on some back swings your pool cue might hit the wall/banister. In this case, see if the building code would allow the wall/banister to only go 32” high.
- Lighting – Pool tables must be lit with bright lights. The best case is to have a light block exactly above the center of the pool table from which to hang a specialty light fixture with 3-4 lights. And remember that you might not decide to place your pool table in the exact center of the room. Again, the light block should be above the center of the pool table.
Throughout the house, you should decide which lights should be on dimmer switches. Having the builder install these will help ensure the proper type is installed, especially where 3-way switches are involved. It also means that you’ll need LED lights that are dimmable.
Lighting Above/Below Kitchen Cabinets
They add a really nice touch to the kitchen, especially if on a dimmer. Even if you have interest in adding this later, consider placing an electrical box somewhere above and/or inside the cabinets for easy installation later.
Houses these days have TVs everywhere. Think about every place where you might want a TV and make sure there is are power and cable outlets there. Examples include the game room or master bathroom, where you may want to put a TV wall mount in some upper corner to have it out of the way. How nice it is to have a power outlet and cable outlet right there? On a similar note, if you’re going to install a heavier TV monitor in a particular location, consider having the builder to put some blocking for it. Basically, it means a 2×10 or 2×12 running between the studs to give added reinforcement, and also plenty of locations to place to screw in the mounting bracket.
Shower Head Height
If anyone living in the house is 6 feet tall or taller, consider putting the shower head fitting at 6’8” or so. Once the shower head is added, it will be at about 6’5”.
In the bathrooms, it’s pretty easy to have the builder install recessed medicine cabinets next to each sink (they fit in between the studs). Great space optimization and very functional.
Think about your sound system, which commonly encompasses both the traditional stereo as well as the entertainment system. Pre-wiring for speakers in the family room, media room, and even the backyard is worthwhile. Basically, the speaker cables will all run from some central point where your stereo system is (or perhaps some wiring closet if you really want to get sophisticated). From there, you mainly need to think about where you want speakers located. Each of your remote speaker “zones” (like the game room or backyard) should have its own volume control knob. This lets you crank up the music in the game room without sending the same volume to your backyard.
Gas BBQ Grill
If you have a BBQ grill for the back patio, consider running a gas line there to avoid having to replace the propane tank every time it runs out. This same concept works well if you want an outdoor fire ring for winter use.
If you’re going to install an irrigation system after the house is built, and have grass on both sides of the driveway, make sure to install a large PVC conduit (3” in diameter) under the driveway. Your main water supply will likely be on one side or the other, so the water main for the irrigation system will need to traverse the driveway. Your irrigation installer will hug you if you tell him you’ve already got a large conduit pipe under the driveway.
Additionally, make sure to get a diagram of how the system was laid out, including indicators for zone control valves and other key system components. You’ll be glad you did in the future when you decide you want to plant some big trees, install a pool or do anything that involves serious digging in your yard. It’s also a good idea to take a video of your yard while it is trenched for the irrigation pipes. Sometimes the crew that installs the system doesn’t exactly follow the plans.
Door Swing Direction
Check the way/direction each door opens (incl. the shower door). Sometimes the builder’s plans aren’t logical based on the way the door would typically be used. Sometimes there are two doors on perpendicular walls that interfere with each other if both are opened at the same time. The shower door comment relates to opening the door and being able to grab towels that might be on a hook or rack nearby.
A/C Intake Vents
Ask about the size of the air conditioning intake vents. If it’s possible to have them all be the same size, you’ll be able to stock a single size of air filters. If it’s not possible, at least try to get commonly sold sizes. If you’re not sure what sizes are common, just go to a local home improvement center and see what they have. After all, that’s where you’re going to stock up from time to time anyway.
Water Heater Placement
Ask your builder about installing the water heaters in the attic rather than taking up space in garage. But if they are going in the attic, you also have to consider the storage space they will take up and the walking obstruction they may create. And don’t forget to ask for the best water line fittings because a rupture in your upstairs attic will cause much more damage than if your tanks are in the garage. You might also want to investigate options for tankless water heaters. They are more expensive but don’t consume as much energy and provide a continuous and never-ending hot water supply.
Some builders will not automatically install decking (flooring) in your accessible attic space. In fact, you might have good attic space that doesn’t include access in the plans. Talk to your builder about doors or pull-downs to gain access to any attic space that is big enough to utilize and have them install decking and a light with an accessible switch.
By default, the shelves in your pantry and linen closets will be 11-12″ deep. Consider making some or all of them 14-15″ deep to gain extra utility.
Unless you tell the builder how you want the closets laid out, they’ll do them however their plan dictates. Do you want upper and lower rods for hanging clothes? If so, how high off the ground for each? I prefer the rods at 38″ and 81″ high from the floor. Do you want shelves above each rod? I typically do. with 8′ ceilings, the upper shelf has about 12″ of clearance for storage.
Do you want any section without a lower rod and shelf? That’s a great feature for robes and long dresses.
Do you want a section that just has shelves? If so, identify the wall and decide how far apart you want them spaced. I typically have the first shelf 15″ off the floor for boots, then one or two shelves with 7-8″ in between for regular shoes, then the rest 9-12″ in between for other purposes.
It’s best to tell the builder how much vertical space you want between the shelves, since that’s your usable space. Just make sure to add to all of that the actual height of the shelf (typically 3/4″) and figure out if the top shelf on this wall will match up with the top shelf above the hanging rod sections. It’s not required, but logical.
By the way, I do this same thing for the shelves in the pantry (varying heights, based on intended use).
Water Supply Lines
It sucks to have a water supply line bust and flood your house, especially if it’s in an upstairs bathroom and both floors get flooded. The material used for the water line itself and the fittings on both ends makes a HUGE difference in resiliency. If the builder doesn’t install steel-braided lines and metal fittings, I immediately replace them. These exist on each sink faucet and each toilet.
I also strongly prefer 1/4″ water valves because they don’t tend to lock up like the round knobs do. If you have the round knobs, don’t open the valve 100% but rather about 75% so the internal parts don’t compress against each other and stick over time. And in both cases, set a reminder to turn the valves on/off every 2-3 years.
Optional Miscellaneous Considerations
- Circuit Breaker Panel Labeling – If your builder doesn’t automatically label each circuit, do it yourself using trial and error. Use a small Sharpie pen so the writing doesn’t fade over time.
- Recessed Medicine Cabinets – For any bathrooms that don’t have medicine cabinets, you can buy a type that installs in between studs and is recessed such that only the door sits outside the wall.
- Quiet Exhaust Fans – Some bathroom exhaust fans sound like a small lawnmower when they’re running. For a little extra cost you can get ones that are much quieter.
- WiFi Repeater – If you’re home is large, spread out, or 2-story, a single wifi router won’t broadcast a strong signal to the whole house. Consider pre-running a network cable from wherever your main router will be to some other location where you can place a wifi repeater for expanded coverage. If you’re not a techie, get some advice on this.
- Hot Water Circulation System – They aren’t cheap, but can save water costs if your shower or kitchen sink are quite a distance away from the hot water heater that serves them. They provide a constant supply of hot water to those locations so you don’t have to wait for the water to get hot.
- Wide Doorways – If wheelchair access to certain rooms is important, configure a 36″ doorway. Maybe you’re building/remodeling your forever home and want to be prepared. Or maybe you have a loved one that likes to visit and uses a wheelchair. If hallway width or other obstructions are a problem, a pocket door is a possible consideration.
- Sound Proof Walls – You might benefit from sound proofing the walls that adjoin a media room or living room or master bedroom.
- Recessed / Indirect Lighting – For the master bedroom, I hate the direct light from a ceiling fan light. Recessed or indirect lighting of some sort is a great solution, especially if they’re on a dimmer.
- Surge Protection – There are whole-house surge protectors that aren’t cheap but protect everything in your house in the event of a nearby lightening strike. I don’t know how much they protect from a direct hit (probably not much).