Building a house…decisions, decisions, decisions…

My husband and I are building a house. We’re not doing the actual hammering, but have hired a builder. This is the third house we’ve built in nineteen years of marriage, and each project has been different. In the first house, we were on a very tight budget and hired a contractor who primarily built spec homes (he builds a house then tries to sell it) rather than custom homes. He was used to choosing the materials. Though we picked the major items, due to a communication glitch, that builder ended up making some of the decisions we had expected to make. The second house that we “built” actually was a spec home that we caught before it was finished. The cabinets and fireplace were in, but we chose everything else: flooring, tile, granite, appliances, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, interior and exterior paint.

Limestone going on the great room fireplace.

Now we’re building our third home, which is fully custom, and I’m struck (sometimes overwhelmed) by the sheer number of decisions. For the exterior we have to plan the type of brick, the front door color, the type of garage door we want from Spark Garage Doors Arvada CO, how big we want the garden, what plants we want in the garden, etc. Each choice we make unleashes a cascade of other decisions. Take, for instance, the simple matter of selecting kitchen cabinets. What style? Traditional? Contemporary? Country? Rustic? Raised panel? Recessed panel? What kind of wood? What kind of finish? What kind of hardware? How do the cabinets go with the floor? (Back up, we have to decide flooring ). Where do we need drawers, and where do we want cupboards? What kind of “inserts” do we want and where? (Now we have to decide where to put the silverware, cookie sheets, and spices when the kitchen is still an empty room). Do we want the cabinet maker to build a range hood or do we get a metal one? What side do we want the dishwasher on (Do we load dishes from left to right or right to left?)? What kind and size appliances are we going to have? The cabinet builder has to have the dimensions. (Back up again, we have to pick appliances). When it comes to finding kitchen appliances, there are so many different options to choose from. Fortunately, a friend of ours recently showed us this site where you can read reviews of all the different makes and models of kitchen gadgets. (Hopefully, this will narrow down our search a little). Take flooring. Hardwood, carpet or tile? Okay, hardwood. If I get hardwood flooring I’ll have to look at the best robotic vacuum cleaners for hardwood flooring (we do need a new vacuum cleaner actually!) Which rooms? What kind of wood? What kind of finish? Pre-finished or finish-in-place? Carpet? What kind of pile? What kind of material? What color? Do we want it to go with the furniture we have or furniture we’d like to buy? How does it go with the wall color (gotta pick paint now!). To add to the decision-making dilemma, many items installed last have to be picked first. Like paint. Typically, paint would be the last decision you’d make because it’s easier to match paint to an item (such as carpet) than it is to match carpet to a paint color. But the paint goes on soon after the dry wall so we had to know what the flooring was going to be even though it’s installed last.

Kitchen before the granite

While we could go with “contractor’s white,” and repaint later, that would mean paying for paint twice – and even if we hired a professional painter, it’s easier to paint when there’s nothing in the house. Appliances are another example. As I mentioned, they’re installed near the end, but they have to picked early so cabinets can be designed around them. The decisions go beyond finishes and fixtures. Where do we want the light switches? When we enter a room, where do we automatically reach? We have to know this when the house is still in the framing stage. Is the sofa going near a wall in easy reach of an outlet so we can have a lamp or do we need to add electrical in the floor? Do we want doors to swing out or in? Where is the door in relation to the light switch? What kind of front door do we want? Double? Single? How tall and wide? Windows along side? Gotta know early cause it has to be framed. What kind of windows do we want? How do we want them to open? Up and down or side to side? Where do we want the shower heads? How high up the wall? (My husband is tall. I’m petite. When the shower head is high enough for him to stand under it without ducking his head, it’s too high for me to reach). How large of a bench do we want in the shower? Do we want the shower head centered on the wall or centered between the bench and the wall? Gotta know this at framing stage so it can be plumbed before the dry wall goes up.

The library. I'll have a separate office.

And then our spouse may not agree with our ideas. In truth, dealing with my husband has been easier than I had anticipated. Basically we each have things that are important to us and the other defers (but has input) to the other on those issues. But my husband tends to evaluate an item just on that item. I try to assess it based on how it will go with everything else. (Yes, that’s beautiful tile, but it will compete with the granite). We broke ground on the house in March and it looks like we’ll be moving in in late November. At this stage, I believe we’ve made most of the decisions. Hundreds of them. These are the the lessons I learned:

  1. Don’t make snap decisions. When I agonized over a choice and made repeated visits to examine samples, I was far happier with the outcome than when I made a decision on the fly. I probably went to look at brick eight times. I went to every local granite place, and then drove 200 miles to a large warehouse in a big city and chose my granite there. When I made a snap decision, I reversed myself in almost every case. Once I couldn’t, and I will have to live with the results; it was too expensive to undo.
  2. Do your homework. Start looking at samples and products well in advance of building. Get pictures. Get brochures, model numbers, etc. Have an idea book started before you begin the project. If you’re thinking that “some day” you might want to build a house, start collecting pictures now so you get an idea of what you like and want.
  3. Collect samples of materials. When you choose your tile, get a sample square to keep. Picked your cabinets? Get a sample of the stained or painted wood. They won’t be offered; you have to ask for them. Take them whenever you look at anything. You never know when you’ll need them.
  4. Don’t be difficult to work with, but remember it’s the builder’s job to accommodate your needs, not the other way around. Your decision should be made based on what you want and what you can afford, not what’s easiest for someone to do.
  5. Use the professional help you have available. The tile salesman has dealt with more tile than you will ever deal with. Solicit and listen to his advice. Then decide.
  6. Hire additional professional help if you need it. One of the best things I did was hire an interior decorator for a couple of hours to help me decide how to pick granite prior to my out-of-town trip and to decide on paint colors. For about $150 I got help to make decisions involving about $15,000 worth of material and labor. Well worth it.
  7. Don’t assume anything. Verify everything. No matter how clear you think something is, ask! It is far better to ask a stupid question and be thought a fool than to have the wrong item installed in your house. When we picked our kitchen granite, there was a large splotch on the granite that we didn’t like. We described it and told the fabricator to avoid using that part. Before they cut it, they asked if we wanted to see the granite one last time. We didn’t feel we needed to, but “just in case” went to look. After pointing out the blotch to the fabricator, she said, “Oh! I thought you’d want that part.” The blotch we specifically didn’t want would have ended up in our kitchen.
  8. Know your non-negotiables and what’s most important to you. Don’t compromise on those things, but be flexible and open on everything else.

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8 Responses to Building a house…decisions, decisions, decisions…

  1. Ana says:

    I kept waiting for you to use house-building as a metaphor for writing or spanking relationship! I must have a one-track mind. 🙂 Best of luck.

  2. Ana says:

    Argh, relationshipS.

  3. Tess says:

    I am overwhelmed just reading through all of those decisions! Looks like it’s going to be just beautiful though. Best of luck!

  4. Karla Doyle says:

    Great pictures, everything looks gorgeous!

  5. I agree w/Tess. I’m overwhelmed just reading about the decisions, let alone making them. But, the photos are beautiful so I’m sure it will all be worth it.

  6. Carrie Crain says:

    I’m excited about your sunlit separate office! Island looks fantastic. I love granite islands. Reading about what all you have had to do thus far overwhelmed me, and I’m not even building. LOL!! It’s so nice to be able to choose the appliances and materials and paint colors to be used in your home. I’m so happy for you!

  7. Cara Bristol says:

    Karla, Tess, Carrie and Celeste, thank you! Several times throughout the project I would remind myself: How do you eat an elephant? A little piece at a time. It’s really amazing to see it all come together, piece by piece.

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