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Learn the Basics About Building

Get ready for the mother of all do-it-yourself projects — building your new home! Of course, you'll need help from designers, builders, bankers, and more, but you can be involved every step of the way — as long as you know what to expect. This quick primer can help you get started.

Building a home can seem like a daunting task, but you might be surprised at how painless — never mind fun and rewarding — it can be. With just a brief introduction to the process, you can take a hands-on approach and ensure that the finished product matches the house you've been dreaming about. Here's what you can expect along the way:

Design

You can hire a custom architect or home designer, or choose a stock plan that may be customized to suit your needs.

Choosing a Builder

Finding the right builder is as critical as choosing the right plan. You'll want an experienced professional with a proven track record and solid references. But your builder should also be someone with whom you can communicate. Even if a builder is talented, he must be willing and able to consider you a team member in the building process for you to enjoy a truly satisfying experience.

Finding a Loan

Investigate all the financing options before you choose. You'll need a construction loan for the actual project, but when it is completed, you'll need to convert to a regular mortgage. Many companies offer a construction-to-permanent loan, which automatically converts once the home is built and approved.

The Building Process

While every project is unique, home building follows a fairly uniform pattern that normally takes between 8 and 12 weeks. Knowing the various steps will help you understand the process and take part in the progress as your home is being constructed.

Site Preparation

A soils test is done to determine drainage and composition of the soil at the building site. A survey establishes property lines and setbacks. The foundation — basement, crawlspace, slab, or pier — is laid, with the style depending on site conditions and your preferences.

Framing

Most homes today are stick-built, meaning that 2x4s or 2x6s are used to create a skeleton. Simple roofs use prefabricated trusses, which are the most efficient method for framing a roof. Roofs with lots of peaks and projections may need to be site built.

Mechanicals

Rough-ins for electrical, plumbing, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) are set up before interior finishes are installed. Subcontractors for these services usually return later at the finish stages to install fixtures, vent covers, switch plates, and so on.

Insulation, Windows and Doors, Drywall

There are many different types of insulation (batt, roll, blown-in, etc.) with differing applications and R-values (a measure of the ability to transfer heat). Work with your builder to determine what will work best for you, your home, and your climate. Keep in mind that framing with 2x6s allows thicker wall insulation. Quality windows and doors are critical for energy efficiency and home security. Select the very best you can afford. Wall finishes are mostly done with drywall-gypsum panels that are nailed or screwed to the frame, over the insulation, and then taped and textured.

Exterior Finishes

The choices for exterior siding, trim, and roofing are numerous and may depend somewhat on what is common in your area. Siding options are usually interchangeable: A stock plan showing brick siding can probably be finished with lap siding and vice versa.

Interior Finishes

Hundreds of little details comprise the interior finishes of a home: paint, trim, wallpaper, flooring, cabinets, countertops, appliances, and fixtures, to name just a few. Make your decisions about these details early and stick to them. Change orders waste time and money.

Walk-Through

Once the construction is completed, your builder will schedule a walk-through, where you will do a final inspection of the home. Now is the time to note anything that is not satisfactory and get a written schedule of when adjustments will be made.

By approaching each of these small steps individually, you can take a once-daunting task and make it very manageable. Chances are you'll have a blast along the way — and wind up in your dream house.

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