Completed Construction - Modern Home And Lessons Learned
It's been 8 months since we completed construction and moved into our new home. I followed this forum closely during our build and as a first time (and hopefully last time) home-builder felt like I got a lot of good information here. So, in the hope of helping those who come after me, I've finally been able to gather my thoughts and write down some things that others may find helpful in their builds. Our total process took nearly two years. We began with a builder and his architect to modify a plan that he had built and that we liked. Our goal was to build our forever house as energy efficient as possible, including geothermal HVAC and building to Earthcraft standards. During this process, it became apparent to us that this builder was not comfortable doing what we were asking and we finally had to part ways after several months. The good news was that he introduced us to an interior designer who we ended up using and through whom we met and hired our incredibly talented architect. Our inspiration was Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie Style design. In our previous house we loved having coffee in the morning watching the birds in our backyard through our bay windows, so we wanted to ensure that we maximized our views into the heavily wooded 1.2 acre lot that we were fortunate enough to find in the city. Bottom line is that the architect and interior designer added a great deal of value to our project in ensuring that our home suited our needs and vision and I would not start the process with a builder if I had it to do over again.
We ultimately found a builder that we felt comfortable with and then we had to get through the contract process. We went with a cost plus contract with a guaranteed maximum price and used an AIA contract. We also added a cost savings clause that I personally would not do again if I had it to do over. This ended up being the biggest source of contention between us and our builder. Despite spending a lot of time with our specs there are invariably still too many variables that are open to interpretation. For example, we specified a full masonry fireplace. We had no idea that this did not include the flue, and since we didn't specify a full masonry flue (which we indeed wanted), he believed we should accept that cost. This may not be the best example, but suffice it to say that no matter how much time and effort we had put into the most detailed specs, this was still a problem. Thankfully, we were ultimately able to resolve things amicably.
The other thing we learned is the importance of carefully reading every line item of what you are purchasing and not to leave this to the builder or architect. One of the first major purchases we had to sign off on was the windows. We received a 20 page pdf file full of abbreviations that we didn't check thoroughly enough. Our builder and architect didn't pick up the fact that the sales rep included shiny brass hardware on our sliding windows and doors. We had no other shiny brass anywhere in our home. I posted on this during our build, and won't belabor the point, but it ended up being an expensive mistake for us that the vendor was not at all customer friendly about helping us resolve. Lesson learned.
The only other important thing we learned that is more specific to modern architecture is the importance of the quality of the trim laborers and framers. With modern architecture, the trim is minimal and quite precise. There are no big pieces of molding to cover up sloppy framing. We felt that the quality of trim work we received could have been better, and if I had it to do over again, I would have specified who was going to do the trim work.
In terms of the geothermal HVAC, in case anyone is interested, so far we are pleased. Between the federal tax credit we got and the savings in our energy bills, I believe we made the right decision for our forever home. We also love not having the outside noisy compressors.
Another lesson I learned was not to let my short term financial fears get in the way of picking something you will be living with for a very long time. A good example is the walnut paneled wall in our living room. This came at the end of our build when finances were very tight. I was ready to abandon this wall, and I now realize how short-sighted that would have been. The wall is the focal point of our living room.
I also didn't realize how much I would love our floors. They were a splurge (6" American black walnut), but we absolutely love them and are so grateful that we did this.
Ultimately I feel incredibly fortunate that we now have a home that we truly love. I'm also grateful that in the current economy and real estate market we are told that our home's value is probably slightly higher than our cost. We don't plan on selling but it's nice to know that we're at least not underwater financially.
In case anyone is interested I've documented our build on my website at http://www.pbase.com/toddao/new_home and recently added some completed photos.
Best of luck to all future home builders.