When friends ask me for advice about building a house or taking on major renovations, I always start by giving them the same set of seven suggestions. Sure, you’ll have to deal with many more points than these before you’re done, but following these will get you safely past the really important challenges and into a terrific home.
1. Consider Timeless Homebuilding Patterns
Fashions come and go, but the home designs that make people feel good really don’t change.
- Consider layout features for your house that allow natural daylight to shine in on two sides of your most important rooms.
- Take note of the wonderful effect created by a cascade of steeply pitched roof surfaces.
- Create transition zones between indoor and outdoor spaces.
- You can learn more about the patterns of aesthetic success in the classic book A Pattern Language, and the recent sequel Patterns of Home.
2. Build a Scale Model First
Few people have the ability to visualize a house or addition in 3D while looking at a set of two dimensional drawings. It’s tough. That’s why building a scale model offers so much value, even with renovations. You’ll need:
- A sharp utility knife
- Some 3/16-inch thick foam board
- A roll of masking tape
- A ruler
Experiment with window size, door placement and roof pitch on the model. You’ll find a scale of 1/2-inch to the foot is ideal for most homebuilding projects.
3. Beware of the Mould Hazard
Canadian homes are especially susceptible to interior mould growth because of our cold winter weather. As warm, moist indoor air filters through cracks around windows, doors and electrical outlets, it cools, creating condensed, liquid water droplets within wall cavities.
- At a minimum, insist on the very best vapour barrier installation to seal against this.
- Better still are the new condensation-resistant construction systems like structural insulated panels (SIPs), and walls made of insulated concrete forms (ICFs).
- Even an exterior layer of rigid foam applied to the outside of a stud frame wall greatly reduces the potential for condensation inside wall cavities.
4. Choose the Best Roofing Materials
- A large part of the cost of any roof goes to the people nailng down the shingles.
- That’s why paying more for the best roofing materials is the least costly long-term option.
- Today’s top asphalt shingles offer twice the working life of standard ones (up to 50 years in some cases), yet should only add about 25% to the overall cost of a shingling job.
5. Ventilate Siding, Brick and Cathedral Ceilings
Few exterior walls are completely rainproof.
- Ventilate the area behind siding, brick and stone.
- The best options are made of synthetic mesh that holds siding about 1/4-inch away from exterior walls, allowing water to drain downwards and out harmlessly.
6. Tall, vaulted, cathedral ceilings are inspiring.
- The space between rafters needs to be ventilated to the outdoors with open channels connecting peak and eaves.
- Don’t stuff the space full of fiberglass insulation.
- Ignore this warning and wintertime condensation can (probably will) wet ceiling surfaces as badly as a roof leak.
7. Build Clear Expectations
Before any work begins, you need to build a two-way understanding with your contractor.
- As a homeowner, you’re entitled to a detailed, written contract outlining everything that will be done for a specific price paid.
- Some builders will try to convince you to pay them by the hour, plus materials. Don’t do it. This approach provides no incentive for efficient work and leaves you with no clear idea how much building you’ll receive for your dollar.
- On the other hand, in all courtesy and fairness to your contractor, you need to understand that deviation from any detailed plan is costly, troublesome and frustrating. You must be prepared to pay extra (sometimes a lot extra) for changes to the contract you signed. This is only fair, so don’t change your mind unless you must.
FInal Words of Wisdom
Look at your heat. People love cozying up to something warm. Canada is a leader in radiant in-floor heating systems, an approach that’s growing in popularity because it feels so good to have warmth coming up through your toes. Radiant systems are available to distribute hot liquid through floor frames.
You’ll also find high-resistance electric heating pads available for installation underneath most finished floor surfaces. Canada is a leader in this technology.
Your home is more than an investment. For those who want a truly excellent home, understand that few are ever built primarily as moneymaking ventures. To achieve all that is possible, you need to think beyond any monetary pay-off when it comes time to sell.
Build as if you’ll live a hundred years, using the most energy-efficient materials and techniques available. And in the end, you’ll probably end up with a very valuable place, even though you didn’t have that idea up front.
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