Building a new home can be a daunting and expensive process. In a typical new home build, there can be over thirty subcontractors, more than a dozen different suppliers, a stack of permits and inspection checklists, and so many finishing detail choices that it’s amazing a new house EVER gets finished and occupied. What’s not amazing is that things go wrong in every one of them. That’s where a well organized general contractor shows their value and skill; dealing with setbacks while keeping the project moving forward and staying on budget
Unfortunately, home performance and energy efficiency often get pushed to the back burner, especially when the project gets crunched for time or money. This despite the fact that if you polled those who are planning to have a home built about the importance of energy efficiency and comfort they put it very high on their list of must-have features.
Compromise is part of the game when building your dream house, but that doesn’t mean giving up on key features you might regret down the road. Here are the seven deal-breaker no-compromise you’re gonna regret features to demand:
Doing this makes a robust house that can withstand other compromises and failures. If the walls, roof, and foundation are super insulated and air tight, the heating and cooling systems matter much less, so if they’re over or undersized systems, or if the ducts leak, and if the heat is not distributed evenly, the effect is not that dramatic.
Splurge on the windows
Many builders will install the lowest grade window allowed by code, commonly called “contractor grade” windows. Another reason they like these windows is the ease of installation. In fact, many builders are even installing windows for which there are tax credits and utility rebates for replacing them immediately! As you shop around the various window options, you’ll learn that a highest grade of window available is less than $100 extra per window and steps in between might only be $15 to $20 more per window. Upgrading at the time of construction is much cheaper and easier than doing it down the road.
On the list of things you can’t do later, this ranks at the top. If you ever want the option of finishing the basement and using the space, installing R-10 rigid foam under the slab floor brings the slab into the conditioned space where it will be the temperature of the room instead of the ground which is typically 55 degrees. This may be required by the code in your area, but even if it is, don’t count on it getting done correctly.
While you might think of the extremes for building a handicap accessible house such as installing ramps, grab bars and walk in bath tubs, many of the features that make a home more accessible are also desirable features. Consider the open floor space in the main floor bathroom, the pantry, and the main entrances. Can you find a better spot for the microwave instead of over the stove? What about door handles instead of knobs and pocket doors instead of swinging doors?
Highest on the list of things you can’t change later is the location and orientation of the house. That narrow lot in the cute subdivision might be a great bargain, but those houses typically have no windows on the sides or they look at the side of the neighboring house. If you like to have weekend morning coffee in the sunshine, make sure you have a few windows on the sunny side of your seating area.
Pay the builder to finish the basement and garage
It may be tempting to opt-out of the options to have the builder finish the garage and basement in hopes of a DIY project down the road. For most homeowners though, it either never gets done, or gets done incorrectly and causes more problems. While the professionals are at the house with all their tools and delivered materials, you’ll never regret having it all done before you even move in.
The only way that you can be sure the house will perform as promised is to have it tested by a third party. HERS Raters need to be involved in the process from the very start of the project. Their sophisticated software can calculate the energy costs of the house before its even built, and their experience in finding flaws in design or construction is priceless.
NEXT: Read the post Working with a HERS Rater. To learn more about the main advocate on your side for a hi-performance house.