Building Your Custom Home
Building Your Custom Dream Home
Now that you’re relocating to the Houston area, it might be time to consider building a custom home. One good reason is that you can build a larger house with many extras at an affordable cost, particularly compared to building costs on either coast. A regional advantage is the temperate weather, which allows building to take place year round. Keep in mind that master-planned communities in the area also offer custom homebuilding options, which provide you with built-in community amenities and features.

First, you’ll need to do some research. If you already have a real estate agent, he or she can help by recommending a custom builder. You also can visit the Greater Houston Builders Association website at www.ghba.org, click on Consumers and select Find a Builder in your area. There you’ll be able to search all members who are custom homebuilders. To get ideas on what style of home you’d like to build, visit your local newsstand and look for magazines that include custom home designs. Also start thinking about materials you’d like to use for the exterior—brick, Texas limestone or other materials.

HOW TO SELECT THE RIGHT CUSTOM HOMEBUILDER
Here are four basic requirements you should expect from a custom homebuilder.
  • Financial Security. You will want to hire a builder who is responsible and financially secure. Does the builder have an established track record? Ask for names and numbers of other clients and call them to ask about their experience with the builder. Contact the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against a builder. Usually, a clean record is a very good sign. Also check with the Greater Houston Builders Association (www.ghba.org) to search for custom homebuilder members.
  • Variety in Floor Plans. To get the home you most desire, select a builder who will offer a variety of floor plans and adapt the floor plan to the topography of your lot.
  • Buying Power. The builder should have enough buying power to ensure that you receive the best prices for high-quality goods. You could save money on the purchase price of appliances, light fixtures, flooring and more. Find out if the builder maintains a design center where you can coordinate your cabinetry and other options.
  • Good Warranty Program. The structural integrity of your home is an extremely important aspect, and you will want certain elements to be covered under a suitable warranty. The builder you select should be able to service the completed home and offer a 10-year warranty program on certain elements of your home’s structure.

GETTING STARTED
When you hear the word “custom” associated with the homebuilding industry, you probably think of a one-of-a-kind home with everything you have ever dreamed, right down to the door knobs, at a price reserved for people with large, six-figure incomes. At one time, that was probably correct, but things are changing.

Today, there are myriad custom home options and a variety of different levels of custom homebuilders in the Houston area. There’s still the full-time, custom homebuilder who builds a few homes each year. There are higher-volume builders who will customize a home by moving walls or adding square footage. There are even higher-volume builders who offer custom options in just a few areas of the home, such as kitchens with sunrooms or kitchens as part of the family room.

Keep in mind that a custom feature is not the same as an optional feature. Options are usually standard features that are perceived as adding value, such as built-in cabinetry, granite countertops, crown molding or finished basements. Custom features are very personal. What one homeowner likes, another may detest. So the added value literally is in the eye of the beholder. This is one reason why most builders will ask for you to pay for custom features upfront.

By expanding the definitions and boundaries of custom homebuilding, builders have given homebuyers more opportunities to build their dream homes without starting from scratch. To customize or not to customize hinges on two things: what you want and how much you are willing to spend.

If you know what you want, have a budget in mind and do decide to proceed, consider these four important steps at the beginning of the process.

Step 1 – Custom Builder Selection
The first step is to decide on a builder. You can begin by interviewing several builders who have been recommended to you by friends and associates who have built custom homes. Contact your local homebuilders association for a list or recommendation of custom builders in your area. Be sure to talk with the builders’ referrals and look at their work. Any builder should be willing to show off custom work they’ve done in the past. Make sure you feel completely comfortable with your builder before you tackle such a large project.

Step 2 – Choose a Lot
By choosing your builder first, you get the benefit of his or her assistance as you make decisions about the lot, the architect and the financing. Have the builder evaluate the lot you’re considering and comment on its appropriateness for the home you have in mind. Working with your builder to select the right lot can help ensure that you don’t discover any unexpected problems or costly modifications that need to be made to it before you start building. Involving your builder upfront also can prevent you from overspending on the lot, building type or size of home you were planning.

Step 3 – Design Plans
Most architects are happy to include builders in the planning process. The design and build team of owner, builder and architect allow all three to comment during the design phase and make innovative suggestions. Your builder can be extremely helpful to you as the plans are being drawn; commenting on construction details and costs to help keep the home within your budget parameters.

Step 4 – Research Financing Options
Once you’ve selected a builder, the lot and the architectural plans, you’ll need a construction or permanent loan to finance their dream home. The banks will reserve the right to approve the builder you choose. Many banks offer loans that initially finance the lot and construction then convert automatically to a mortgage loan. These construction or permanent loans have made it very easy to finance a custom home. Some custom builders may be willing to purchase the lot for you. When the home is completed, you can roll the amount of the home and lot into your mortgage. With some research, careful planning and a little know-how, building your dream home can become a reality.

WHAT TO EXPECT DURING THE BUILDING PROCESS
If this is your first custom homebuilding experience, it’s important to know the steps involved in the process. Once your lot has been cleared and it’s time to begin the construction of your new house, there is a sequence of events that will involve you. By embracing the project and being aware of the steps, you will be a participant and not an outsider. This information is from the custom homebuilding resource, Custom Home Key (www.customhomekey.com).

Step 1 – Laying the Foundation
There are several different approaches to foundation; basement foundation is the most common. Other techniques include slab-foundation and pole-and-pier foundations. Slab-foundation is common in areas where soil conditions are not suitable for a basement, such as in the Houston area. Pole-and-pier foundations are a necessity in areas, such as coastal states, where homes are sometimes built either partially over water or in floodplains.

If you chose any kind of basement foundation, you will likely see a crew arrive on site first. They will begin by digging a hole that is larger than the foundation to accommodate workers doing their job around the foundation forms. Poured concrete is the most common basement foundation method, but treated wood, brick or concrete blocks also are used. It all depends on your location and soil type. With poured concrete, you’ll see the foundation forms go up and reinforcing bars go into the forms. You also will see openings being marked for windows and utilities.

After the concrete is poured into the forms, anchor bolts are placed into the still-soft mixture. These bolts are responsible for securing the exterior walls to the foundation. Once the concrete hardens sufficiently and the forms are removed, you probably will see waterproofing measures being taken, including an impermeable membrane or asphalt coating being applied to the foundation wall to prevent water from seeping in. After the waterproofing measures have been done, the surrounding soil is backfilled against the exterior of the foundation wall.

Step 2 – Constructing the Framing
Framing is the next step of the building process. Floors are framed first and then the walls. If you have a basement foundation you will notice a subfloor will be installed first. Subfloors consist of joists with 4x8 flooring material nailed or screwed to the joists. If you have a slab foundation, the exterior walls will be mounted directly onto the slab.

The framing stage provides a glimpse of the future shape of your home. In many ways, framing is the house skeleton. You will see holes for windows and doors appear in the building’s envelope, and the interior will begin to show its form as well. The interior walls and closets will be framed within.

Framing follows an upward progression. The walls of the first floor are framed, then the second floor and the second set of walls (if there is a second floor) and lastly the roof. Roof trusses are placed on top of the walls and then linked to the exterior walls by metal straps. Next, they are tied in to each other by 2x4s. Roof sheathing, usually 4x8 sheets of plywood or oriented strand board, is nailed to the roof trusses. This provides a deck on which the roofing material can be fastened.

Step 3 – Installing the Roofing
When it comes to roofing, an additional step is needed for those that live in colder regions. For these regions, the first thing to go down on the roof deck is an adhesive, impermeable membrane, which is placed along all the eaves. This membrane prevents ice-dam or trapped water from backing up under the shingles during the winter. It costs more than asphalt paper or roofers felt, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run. Once it is put into place, asphalt paper is applied to the rest of the deck.

Roof covering is the next step. Asphalt shingles are most common. They are designed to last 25 or 30 years although longer-lasting (thicker) shingles are available. Additional roof-covering choices include clay tiles, slate, cedar shakes and sheet metal. Prices will vary among them.

Step 4 – Putting Exterior Trim in Place
Now that the skeleton of the home is in place, it’s time to give the home some skin—exterior trim. This step is often performed while the roofers are still carrying out their duties on the roof. The same sheathing material that is used on the roof is used to cover the bare exterior framing studs. At this time, a vapor barrier is stapled to the sheathing to help prevent moisture and air from seeping in and rotting the studs. This is also when the windows and doors are installed as well as fascia boards and soffit boards.

Exterior cladding is the next step in the exterior trim process. This could be cedar siding, stucco, brick, stone, vinyl or cement fiber siding. Once the cladding is up, gutters can be installed. Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to wait until the roof is complete before you begin installing the gutters. You wouldn’t want a worker’s ladder to ruin your new gutter system.

Step 5 – Installing Mechanical Systems
The mechanical systems include your heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (better known as your HVAC systems). This step is completed in two steps. The first step requires the workers to install the internal components that will be hidden once your house is complete. These components include your house’s water pipes, ducts and wiring. The second step is when the workers return at a later date to install the light and water fixtures and heat registers.

Step 6 – Insulating the Home
Insulation is a huge step in the building process, and it plays an important role in the comfort of your home, not to mention energy savings. This step requires the exterior wall cavities between the studs to be filled with whatever type of insulation you specify. Popular choices include fiberglass batts and blown cellulose, but a growing number of homebuilders are using foam insulation as well.

For those of you interested in “green building,” there are environmentally friendly insulation choices. A popular environmental choice includes UltraTouch, a batt-type insulation made from reclaimed cotton. Other choices include insulation made from newspaper and low-density concrete.

Step 7 – Putting Up Drywall
It is now time for the drywall. Drywall is hung or nailed to your interior walls and ceilings, providing more structure to your home. After the drywall is hung, you will notice the builders spreading a thin, fibrous tape over the seams between the sheets. Joint compound is then spread over the tape. Typically, about three coats of the compound is applied, allowed to dry and sanded smooth before the walls are ready for the final step.

It is now your turn to decide what kind of walls you want. Do you want to paint, wallpaper or apply a textured effect to your walls? If you aren’t going to paint or wallpaper, now is the time where you can have a texture applied to your walls as a nice finishing touch.

Step 8 – Putting Interior Trim in Place
Interior trim begins with your doors. Lengths of trim wood are applied to the outside edges of the door openings, and base molding pieces are applied to the walls where they meet the floor. Crown moldings cover the walls where they meet the ceiling. Once the door trims are finished, other trim needs, such as stair rails and fireplace mantels are installed.

Step 9 – Painting and Staining
It is now time for the painting and staining processes. Any trim pieces that were installed unfinished can be painted or stained, and any untextured walls can be painted or wallpapered. Be sure to prepare all of the areas that you plan to paint or stain. Sometimes the drywallers leave joint compound on the walls, and it should be filed down before you paint or stain.

Step 10 – Doing Finishing Work
It is now time to bring in your beautiful kitchen and bath cabinets and maybe that granite countertop you’ve always wanted. The tiles, the carpet, the blinds and curtains, the appliances, the furniture and all the other aesthetic touches are now finding a place within your new walls. This is also the time when the subcontractors come back to install the heat registers and light and water fixtures.

Step 11 – Doing Cleanup and Landscaping
The final steps include your driveway and/or sidewalk being installed, the landscaping being created and the process of clean-up begining. Try saving a few dollars and tackling the clean-up on your own. This process can be made easy if you call your garbage company and have them drop off one of those oversized trash receptacles to throw away any remaining debris that you find.

FLOOR-PLAN TRENDS
Here are some of the most desired features for future floor plans, provided by custom home building resource, Custom Home Key (www.customhomekey.com).

— Sight Lines
Sight lines are very useful when designing the floor plan of your house. Sight lines are responsible for making one home seem large and another seem small when both homes have the same square footage. They are invisible lines that can be drawn from any given point in the home, whether you’re standing in a doorway or seated in a room. The lines stop when you visually come to a point where you cannot see any further; for example, when your sight is obstructed by a wall or a door. Walls and doors make the home feel smaller. By opening things up with a hint of what lies beyond, the home will look and feel larger.

Sight lines can be checked with the floor plan, a ruler and a pencil. Begin by standing in the middle of any doorway or opening and start drawing a straight line to various focal points in the home. Focal points can include windows, courtyards, fireplaces and adjacent rooms. Ask yourself the following questions when making your sight lines. Then check them from various sitting positions in the home:
  • Does the line stop in that room or does it pass through several?
  • Does it intersect a featureless wall or will you get a glimpse of a window and the courtyard beyond?
  • What will you see from the dining room table? From the family room sofa? From your bed? From the kitchen?

Once you carefully have made your sight lines throughout your house, make note of what views you feel are the most important as you casually sit and stand in different areas of your space. Always remember that the least amount of obstructions there are, the bigger the house will look and feel. Not to mention, it’s far more interesting to get a preview of what’s to come with subtle hints and captivating clues of the spaces beyond than to be cut off from the rest of the home.

— Traffic Patterns
Sight lines help you understand the way your house will look and feel when you’re standing still or seated, but what about when you move through it? Traffic patterns are used to help you judge how your home looks and feels when you’re moving through it. Traffic patterns trace the way a person gets from one location to the next within a house and also how simple it is for them to do so.

Modern home floor plans rarely utilize hallways to move from one space to another because homeowners are realizing that the space is wasted and dull. Today’s floor plans are turning other rooms into passageways. By doing so, small-space rooms are made to seem larger because they are open to other rooms with good sight lines. However, sometimes rooms as passage ways do not do justice for your floor plan. For example, when you walk from the master bedroom to the kitchen and have to walk between the sofa and the TV. This is especially bothersome if your master suite is upstairs and you have to walk down the stairs and pass through the entry where people are entertaining.

Horizontal banding is a technique used to accommodate such traffic patterns. Let’s say, for example, that your family room is between the master bedroom and the kitchen. Horizontal banding would place the doors or openings to the kitchen and the bedroom on the same side of the home. This creates an easy traffic pattern that makes it simple for one coming from the bedroom to get to the kitchen without having to diagonally cross the family room. It also can make furniture placement easier.

In addition, a stairway from the entryway may not be very practical. It’s more reasonable to have it come to the family room or kitchen and toward the center of the home for better access. This is also a better use of space. Keep in mind, there should also be several entrances into the kitchen as well. Three is good but five is even better.

— Privacy and Togetherness
As much as we love our family, there is a time when all of us appreciate a little privacy. This is especially true in a house full of kids. The relative placement of rooms can play a major role in how a home lives. Start off by asking yourself some of the following questions:
  • Do want your children’s bedrooms directly over or near the master bedroom or would you rather have the master bedroom in a separate wing?
  • Do you want the master bedroom next to the family room or away from loud activities?
  • Do you want your kitchen isolated or open to other rooms?
  • Do you want the kids’ recreation room isolated or as a room that is open to the bedrooms and welcoming to family?

Your need for privacy and togetherness will determine your answers to these questions. Most homeowners want the master bedroom to be away from heavy noise volume and away from children’s rooms. Likewise, it is common to want the kitchen to be open to promote togetherness and conversations. Children’s playrooms work well when they are designed as a central hub instead of isolated rooms.

— Arrangement of Windows
It’s important to know that it doesn’t take a lot of windows to make an impact on the character of a home. However, knowing where to place them is key to creating the look and feel you most desired. This is where sight lines come in handy. Look for areas in the home that are blocked off and dark, and use windows to open up the view and make the space appear larger.

Many homeowners think that if they have an expansive rear wall in the family room, it must be filled with two-story windows to bring in the beauty of the outdoors. However, the same effect can be created with a strategically placed set of six- or eight-foot windows. This arrangement will offer the same impact and also save you energy.

In addition, it is often a great idea to place small windows under top cabinets in the kitchen. They can have a major influence over the look and feel of a kitchen. Another example would be a bowed bay window in a small dining area. It will make the room seem much larger. You also should pay special attention to the direction in which the windows face. What view will the window give you, and will it give morning or afternoon light?

GREEN BUILDING TIPS
People everywhere are beginning to understand the importance of recycling. Some are consistent about separating glassware, saving cans, bagging newspapers and rinsing out empty milk cartons before carelessly disposing of their collection. Many even choose appliances and products for their homes that are environmentally friendly.

However, most people don’t realize that the opportunity to live in an earth-friendly home begins before the builder even breaks ground. It’s becoming increasingly popular for builders to minimize and recycle jobsite waste during the building process. Furthermore, builders are trying to use building products made partially or completely from recycled materials. Whether you call it environmentally friendly, green or ecological, the interest to build new homes with Mother Earth in mind is growing. Choosing the right building materials can make your home more environmentally friendly and economical to maintain.

If you are in the market for having a new house built, you easily can limit the toll your building project takes on the environment with a few conscious thoughts. Start by carefully selecting your building materials. Products made partially or completely from recycled products are now available and can be used on the foundation, the framing, the rafters and much more. Following are some examples of products that are now recycled and used in the home:
  • Ceramic tile is being made from old light bulbs.
  • Carpeting is being made from recycled soda bottles and sheep’s wool.
  • Interior wallboard is being made from newspaper and gypsum.
  • Recycled concrete is used for drywall.
  • Newspaper and reclaimed cotton are being used to make insulation.
  • Decking materials can include recycled milk cartons.
  • Low-density concrete can be recycled and used for insulation.
  • Paint is being made from old paint.
  • Shake shingles are being made from aluminum cans and nails from melted-down cars.
  • Fly ash from burned coal can be used to make concrete.
  • Bricks can be made of tightly compacted earth, clay and straw.
  • Linoleum is a natural flooring covering material made up of linseed oil, resins and wood flour.
  • Steel is 100-percent recyclable and an extremely durable building material.

It’s important to pay close attention to the price of some of these products. Sometimes the cost can be significantly higher than their traditional counterparts. Do your research beforehand and choose the right building materials without adding to the cost of construction.

In addition to “green” building products, another important consideration is waste disposal. Reducing waste at the jobsite benefits the environment. The materials used and wasted during construction and demolition account for an estimated 28 percent of municipal solid waste. Waste disposal also can account for a significant portion of building fees. By simply reducing and recycling jobsite waste you can save an outstanding amount of money.

Building a custom home is a complicated process, but it doesn’t have to be out of your reach. Houston hosts a number of quality custom homebuilders ready to make your dream property a reality.
 
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