Finding the perfect combination of house and location can often be a challenge. Perhaps you have found a lot with a lovely view, privacy and mature vegetation. The only problem is the house. The World War II-era foundation is cracked, the kitchen is the size of a closet and none of the bedrooms will accommodate your furniture. Rather than passing up the purchase, consider whether it is feasible to renovate or rebuild. Once you have done a careful analysis of the renovation costs, it’s time to weight them against the costs and benefits of rebuilding from the ground up.
One of the greatest benefits of building a new home is freedom of choice. You can choose the size, layout, style and other features of your home. As you write your wish list, consider these factors:
- Size: Will you be adding to your family with children or accommodating elderly parents? If so, anticipating future needs will ensure your home will be suitable for years to come. However, keep in mind that size directly affects the cost. Most builders provide a price based on square footage. As well, there are long-term expenses: a large home will cost more to heat, light, cool and furnish. If you choose a large square footage, consider building upwards rather than outwards to minimize the size and cost of the foundation.
- Style: Although new home construction is an opportunity to express your individuality, be careful about venturing too far from the norm. A cutting-edge design may be difficult to sell in the future. Also, consider the styles in the neighbourhood. For example, you may not recoup the costs of building a high-end, 4,000-square foot home in a neighbourhood of moderately priced bungalows.
- Shape: Be aware that the shape of a home can affect the cost of construction. A rectangular or square home is the least expensive to build. The more angles and corners, the more labour and materials will be required.
- Materials: Energy efficient materials and building techniques can substantially reduce heating, cooling and lighting costs over the long run. Technology is constantly improving and you may be pleasantly surprised at the current ‘pay back’ on some items. Solar water heaters pay for themselves in 8-10 years and, considering that they have a lifespan of approximately 25 years, you can enjoy 15 years or more of free water heating! Can you think of any building materials that are dropping in price? Solar panels are one of the very few. Increased consumer demand has resulted in a reduced cost-per-unit. This gives homeowners more incentive to use solar panels to supplement their energy needs and/or provide emergency power. There is also a wide range of energy-efficient options in flooring, insulation, roofing and windows.
- Mobility: If you would like to spend your retirement years in the house, design with mobility in mind. This means creating the space to accommodate a wheelchair or walker. Traditional bathrooms and kitchens are too small to allow someone in a wheelchair to turn around. The Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation recommends allowing a manoeuvring space of 75 x 120 cm (30 x 47 in.) in front of or beside all fixtures including the bathtub, shower and storage spaces. Pocket doors save space within the bathroom. Countertops in the bathroom and kitchen should be lower than traditional at 86 cm (34 inches) to 91 cm (36 inches). Single lever taps are the easiest to use by someone in a wheelchair and anyone with arthritis.
- Site Characteristics: Building on a flat lot usually costs less than building on a slope. Costs will increase if the builder needs to remove large trees or rocks before laying the foundation.
Types of Plans
Custom Home Plan
This option typically requires the assistance of a licensed architect and an experienced contractor. However, your vision is essential to the process. Consider using design software to help you work out the details. It allows you to express your ideas in a format that is much clearer to the architect than handmade drawings! Ideally, purchase software that is compatible with your architect’s professional design programs.
Even with the assistance of technology, your design may require some adjustments by an architect particularly in terms of structural soundness. For example, the frame must be able to support the weight of the roof and an upper floor (if applicable) and withstand a certain level of vibration (such as in a minor earthquake). An architect may also be able to suggest cost-savings such as designing in two-foot increments to reduce lumber waste since lumber is usually sold in two-foot increments.
Once the architect has completed the design, you will need to hire a building contractor who will coordinate the work of framers, electricians, plumbers and other tradespeople. Be sure to check references when selecting a contractor. Get the project scope, responsibilities, cost and timelines in writing. Lastly, communicate with your contractor frequently and, ideally, at the worksite.
Existing House Plan
Today, you can choose from thousands of home plans. Catalogues of plans are available for sale at most bookstores and on the internet. Once you find a home design you like, you can purchase the blueprints and other information that a contractor will require.
This option promises to be faster and easier than starting ‘from scratch’. When you order one of the ‘pre-fab’ home plans, the manufacturer delivers the blueprints, pre-cut lumber, windows, doors needed to complete the home. Packages vary by manufacturer so carefully read the details and ask for a list of references.
If, in the end, you decide to build a new home, you are embarking on an adventure that will reward you for years to come.