In previous posts we have gone over the things to look for when working with builders. Once you decide on the builder and the floor plan then you are faced with the most exciting task, picking out options and upgrades. When buying a new build choosing the optional features/upgrades can be both fun and daunting at the same time. I know, every person’s dream home is different but there are few things that all of us need to consider. In this post I have attempted to summarize all the info I have gained from our experience and from friends and neighbors who have gone through the same process.
- Pick your lot wisely. What is it facing now/will it face in future (parking, utilities, traffic)? True for both the front and the back. An open space in the back usually comes with a premium.
- The direction of the lot/driveway is key. In colder climates, pick a direction so that the snow in the driveway can melt easily. The backyard of an east facing house cannot really be used in the afternoon (an issue a lot of our neighbors face). This was an important consideration when we picked our west facing home even though in India east facing houses are favored for religious reasons.
- If you have an option to increase your ceiling height from the standard 8′ to 9′ or 10′ then definitely do it. Trust me, this is one feature that will pay its worth in gold later on. The extra foot or two brings in so much light into the room. Our first home was built in the 80’s and had the typical 8′ ceilings. In our current home the main floor and basement have 9′ ceilings while the top floor has 8′ (except the master). Again, we can really see the difference in the taller floors. If we had the option we would have increased the ceiling height on the top floor in a heart beat.
- Make sure to choose any structural options that you want (bay windows, extensions/bump-outs, tray ceilings, fire place) first as it is hard to get these done later on.
- Go easy on the non structural options aka put them after all the structural ones on your priority list. You can always upgrade your kitchen cabinets/counters, flooring, or bathroom tile later.
- Pre-wire your surround sound before the drywall goes up.
- This one can be a bone of contention for many but I have heard way too many folks complain about it. Beware of two story family rooms. Yes, they are great aesthetically but the most common gripe is that they are a pain in the you know where to heat/cool. All that extra wall space and windows can be difficult to decorate. I have also heard folks lament about the wastage of space and not converting it into an extra room upstairs. Another issue (especially if you have light sleepers) could be that it is easier for sound (TV) to travel to the upstairs bedrooms.
- Skip on adding the deck option if you want anything other than the basic deck. If you are going for anything fancier then getting it done later will work out cheaper. The only plus of using the builder for the deck is that the cost will be covered in the mortgage and it won’t be that painful.
- The same thing goes for landscaping. Get it done later on.
For a list of options that we wish we had chosen go here.
Other Posts in the “New Home Basics” Series
Working with your New Home Builder
What to Look for When Buying Window Blinds
How to Apply Window Film on Your Door
Actually west facing houses are as equally bad as east facing houses. This is because, in Northern Hemisphere sun actually rises in North East, is high in the south sky at midday, and sets in North West. In winter months, sun rises in south east is low in south sky at midday and sets in south west. Which means unlike in the equitorial tropical regions, sun never comes straight over your head. It travels in a 45 degree angle with respect to you. You might get a shade in your deck depending on where the deck is with respective to the house in the evenings, mostly from the shadow casted by your house. But rest of your backyard is sunny through out the day.
In my opnion, the house should actually face south. This helps to maximize the winter sun and summer shade. Having a south faced house helps heating the house from natural light with the right placing of windows. Heat from the southern sun in winter months could provide 20 -80 % of heat required.
About the ceiling height. Usually single family houses constructed after the turn of the century all are built with 10-14feet ceiling. The upstairs are usually 8 to 10 feet. The condos and multi family homes are still being constructed with 8ft ceilings. This is to conserve heat. As you know heat rises. Having a lower upstairs means it requires less energy to push the heat up. I found the height of the ceiling is not negotiable with most builders. And if you could negotiate you will pay a huge premium on your HVAC bill.
In fact if you could negotiate the height of the ceiling, you should be negotiating on the type of your HVAC system as well. You should be asking for a dual head HVAC. There will be two units, one in the basement and one in the attic. The attic will be pushing the air down and the basement unit will pushing the forced air up. This helps the house to heat and cool uniformly, resulting in a much lesser utility bill. I found you could reduce the coast by half by having a dual headed HVAC system. You could still conserve a lot by placing energy efficient thermostat like Nest (http://www.nest.com/). Nest is the iphone of Thermo stats (Its a company by Tony Fadell, the Father of iPhone) . It learns with you.
I found strategically designing zones is one other factor. Most builders are reluctant to create zones. The reason is they can go with cheaper HVAC systems. Usually there are two zones. Creating a third zone for just your master bedroom can save lot on your heating/cooling bill.
Very true Ranjith. Yes a south facing house is the best. In our case, based on the lots that the builder had opened up, our only options were either an east or west facing one. Also, when you are talking about 0.25 acre lots almost all your backyard is covered by the shade of your house. 🙂 One of the builders that we were considering was willing to negotiate on the ceiling height, they already had a dual HVAC (again most of the builders around here do, no idea why ours didn’t). So would have worked great. I had talked about the dual HVAC in the last post, one of the things that we wish we had the option to change. Around here most of the townhomes built from early 2000’s (I haven’t been inside older homes here) onwards have high ceilings, all 3 levels. May be it is a Southern thing?