New Home Advice

Top 10 Reasons Home Buyers Prefer Hew Homes vs Used

Today’s new homes offer more benefits than ever before. Here’s a quick list of the Top 10 reasons why so many home buyers prefer new homes to used houses:

  1. Design Your Dream Home Your Way: Why settle for someone else’s choices when you can select your favorite cabinets, countertops, appliances, carpets and flooring? While you’re at it, you can choose gorgeous bath and kitchen fixtures, lighting and other options that you love. Your new home will reflect your style, not someone else’s taste.
  2. Choose a Floorplan and Room Layout that Meets Your Needs: Want a master bedroom on the first floor? It’s yours. With massive his and her’s walk-in closets? Done! Want high ceilings and a luxurious, resort-style master bath? Perhaps you’d like a sitting room with a fireplace in your owner’s suite or French doors that open to your private patio or the pool? It’s easy, when you build your master suite your way.
  3. All New, Under Warranty: A used home likely has tired products that may soon need replacing. Your new home — and the products that comprise it — are brand-new and under warranty. What’s the cost to replace a roof, appliances, countertops or a water heater on a used home? Those components of your new home feature the latest designs and building materials and should offer you years of comfort and enjoyment before needing replacement.
  4. Energy and Cost Savings: Today’s new homes are far more energy efficient than homes built just five years ago. Versus homes built ten or 20 years ago, it’s game over, advantage new.Why settle for drafty, energy-wasting single-pane windows in a used home? Many new homes offer double or even triple-pane windows. Special window coatings and inert gases between the layers of glass are often available, saving you even more energy and money in both heating and cooling season.
  5. Comfort and Indoor Air Quality: Today’s new homes meet stringent energy standards and codes not in place in the past. They combine high-performance energy efficiency with state-of-the-art ventilation and air filtration. The result is year-round, draft-free comfort and higher indoor air quality.
  6. Low Maintenance: New cars today are computer-designed and computer-equipped. That’s why they perform much more reliably than a car that’s 15 or 20 years old. Homes are the same. Today’s new homes have open floorplans and high ceilings that reflect the way we live today. They’re also made of cutting-edge building products that require less care and maintenance. Another plus? The latest building systems and components are designed and engineered to work together.
  7. Community Amenities: Many new homes are built in lavish master-planned communities with resort-style community centers, pools and clubhouses. Many new home communities also feature hiking trails, protected open lands and some of the best new schools and shopping near (or even within) your new home community.
  8. Advanced Technology and Design: It’s possible to replace all of the single-pane windows in a resale home with today’s high-performance windows. It’s also possible to add insulation to a used home. However, it’s very expensive to replace dated appliances, cabinets and countertops in a used home — and you still won’t have the high ceilings you dream of on the first floor of an older two-story home. All are reasons to build your new home your way, to reflect the way you live today.
  9. Safety: State-of-the-art circuit breakers. Electric garage door openers with infrared beams that stop if a tricycle or child is too near. High-efficiency furnaces and air conditioners that use the latest environmentally-friendly coolants. Cabinets, carpets and paints that use fewer volatile organic compounds, so that you and your family can breathe easier.
  10. That New Home Feel: A used home was someone else’s dream, not yours. It reflects their choices and family memories. You may learn to love avocado-green appliances (and you may be willing to scrub stained countertops or grease-encrusted ovens and cooktops) but more and more people prefer that never lived-in feel.

After all, when was the last time you went to a department store and selected used clothes? Or visited a car dealer and paid more for a used car than a new car?

New homes offer the latest designs, style, comfort and quality. They provide a care-free lifestyle so that you can enjoy your home, not work on it. Start shopping now on, the world’s largest and most complete new home website. You’ll be glad you did. Article provided by

The differences include some you may not have considered. As you plan your new home, one of the first questions to consider is whether working with a smaller, custom home builder or a higher-volume home builder (also referred to as a production builder) is the best choice for you.

Both types of builders are excellent options and each can deliver a great new home for you. Much of the decision will rest in how many choices you wish to make – as well as how much design input you’d like to have, in partnership with your builder, during your home’s construction process.

At its core, the difference between a production builder and a custom builder is simple:

A production builder simultaneously builds multiple homes based on a library of home plans. Each home is customized in several key respects. Buyers personalize their home by selecting products in many categories (such as appliances, cabinets, countertops and flooring) from a menu of options offered by the builder.

A custom builder typically creates a one-of-a-kind home that offers an even greater range of design choices that’s often built on a single lot. Buyers who wish to select most details of their new home often decide to work with a custom builder.

This difference in approach between custom and production builders will help determine what product and design choices you’ll make and also shape how you and your builder will work together.

In some parts of the country, particularly in southern or western states, the production model of construction accounts for most new homes built. In other areas, such as the Northeast for example, custom homes comprise a much larger share of new homes. That being said, both types are available in most parts of the country. Here's a breakdown of what to expect from each:

Production Builders

There are two main types of production builders: locally based/regional firms and national companies.

Locally based production builders construct homes in multiple new home communities in a specific city or region. National builders construct hundreds or even thousands of homes per year, often in large master-planned communities, in many states and cities across the country. While the scale is different, the basic process that local, regional and national production builders use is similar.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), most production-based home builders:

  • Offer home and land as a package
  • Offer a range of house plans to choose from
  • Allow buyers to select their favorite style/design from a menu in several product categories
  • Build homes priced for first-time, move-up and luxury buyers

A production builder can usually deliver the same size home for less money than a custom builder. The reasons lie in volume purchasing power when buying building materials and land and a higher volume, often systematized approach to construction.

Buying the right type of land is a big part of a production builder’s strategy. Many larger builders construct homes in large, master-planned communities. A production builder’s scale and access to a large number of lots (building sites) in such communities also allows the construction process to be fine-tuned for great efficiency.

Higher volume builders can also pass on cost savings by purchasing building materials in bulk. Just as large airlines can lock in low fuel prices by ordering in volume, production builders can use their size to order materials for hundreds of homes at a time, often at lower prices.

In addition to using scale to generate cost savings, production builders are highly focused on quality. The top companies deliver carefully designed, highly engineered, solidly built homes whose components and systems are designed and optimized to work together. With up-to-date, appropriately sized heating and cooling systems, such new homes are much more energy-efficient and comfortable than older homes.

An advantage of large new home communities is that the developer will often give careful thought to protecting open spaces. The developer may also provide an enticing array of community amenities – such as a clubhouse, fitness center, swimming pool, hiking trails, sports fields and more.

The community developer also works closely with each builder to insure an attractive mix of homes. In addition to mixing models or floorplans from several builders, each home plan typically offers multiple elevations to vary the look of the front of each home. By changing the placement of windows, gables, and the size and shape of the front porch, a single floorplan can be built in several different looks.

To add further design appeal, each elevation can usually be constructed with a differing type and color of exterior. A given model home can be built with various in brick, siding, stone or stucco and varying shades of color to offer pleasing diversity and individuality.

As a buyer working with a production home builder, you’ll typically start by selecting a lot for your home and your favorite floor plan from the builder’s library of plans. The next step is to select an elevation. Many production builders also offer the opportunity to specify the use of a bonus room; based on your needs, a bonus room can be built as an extra bedroom, a study or even a media room.

Next, you and the builder will work together – often in a Design Center – to further personalize your new home by selecting design options.

While the process varies from one builder to another, you’ll typically select your favorite style (such as contemporary or traditional) and your favorite colors and finishes for key products in your home such as appliances, cabinets, countertops and carpet and flooring. In most cases, you’ll also select bath and kitchen faucets and sinks and fixtures as well as lighting fixtures for your home.

Buyers who select a production builder typically cannot change the basic structure – the floor plan, layout of rooms and square footage – but each model has a wide array of attractive options to choose from to personalize your home in many respects. In addition, many builders offer a series of "good, better and best" options at corresponding price points to help simplify your product choices.

Production builders work hard to make building a new home fun and exciting. In addition to model homes where you can experience the look and feel of the various rooms and options, most larger home builders also have a well-defined set of steps to help guide you through during the steps to buy, design and build your new home.

Custom Builders

If you have your eyes on a particular piece of land, want to build in an established neighborhood, already have a set of floorplans, or want to be heavily involved in each step of your home’s design, then consider a custom home.

As the name implies, the process of building a custom home is less scripted than a production home, because there are no pre-defined choices or menus to choose from. With custom homes:

  • The home can be built on land you own or land that you acquire.
  • You can supply a floorplan or commission a set of home plans to be drawn from scratch.
  • You can work with a separate architect and builder – or with a design-build company that manages both the architectural design and the construction process.
  • You’ll be more involved in the process and have the opportunity to make many decisions.
  • You can pick from nearly any product in a category – within your budget, of course – rather than selecting from a defined menu of choices.

Expect to pay more for a custom home than a production model of similar size and floor plan; after all, the typical custom builder doesn't enjoy the economies of scale and labor efficiencies that a production builder does. Of course, the actual price will depend on a number of variables – the most obvious being the size of the home, the intricacy of its design, the building products and materials you select, and the land you purchase.

While many people associate custom homes with large and expensive homes, a custom home can range from a simple ranch-style home to a more elaborate and multi-story floor plan designed around your lifestyle.

Since most custom builders create homes in a variety of architectural styles and price ranges, a great place to start when selecting a custom builder is to ask to see photos of the past homes they’ve built. Many custom builders maintain strong relationships with past home buyers, so you may also be able to work with a custom builder to set up an appointment to visit a home they’ve previously built.

Once you select a custom builder, you can supply your own floorplan or work with an architect to design a home from scratch. Be prepared to select custom woodwork and to select nearly any type of appliance, flooring and cabinet. As a custom home buyer you can select most details of your home. You can work closely with the architect and builder to site your home and to design a floorplan that works around existing trees on your land and that places your windows to take advantage of the best views.

The good news? When building a new home, your choices are nearly unlimited; the main restrictions are your budget and any building code or zoning limitations. If you find that freedom to create a home from a blank sheet of paper to be exciting, then building a custom home is likely for you.

The key to working with a custom builder is to establish a realistic budget and to stick to it, even when you’re enticed by a lovely but higher-cost option. While most buyers realize that additional customization will increase the home’s price, unexpected land-related costs can take you by surprise, so it pays to do your homework.

At one end of the scale, you may hold the deed to a flat suburban lot with in-ground utilities already available at the curb. Such a finished lot is ready to build on.

On the other hand, you may be considering wooded, rural or steep hillside property. While such land is no doubt scenic, the upfront costs of preparing previously undeveloped rural land for construction is typically a significant additional cost in addition to the purchase price of the land. Site prep – building a driveway, bringing in water, electric and sewage lines, and excavating the foundation – can be quite expensive. Your builder and architect can help you estimate those costs, too.

Even if you’re building on already developed land, you and your architect and builder need to carefully research zoning or deed restrictions. For example, you may be required to site your home on particular part of the lot and to keep all structures a certain distance from the property line – leaving insufficient room for that three-car garage you want. To avoid surprises, have an attorney clarify all restrictions and get estimates on site work (either via the builder or on your own) before completing a land purchase.

Because the process of building a custom home is, not surprisingly, truly customized, you’ll typically spends a lot more time designing and constructing your new home than you would if you work with a production builder.

During each stage of design, you’ll have a very wide range of choices to make your home truly unique. Given the many choices involved, it’s not unusual for custom home buyers to experience a few more emotional ups and downs than a production home buyer may experience in their new home journey. That said, knowing what to expect at each stage – and especially what choices you’ll make and when – can make your custom home process smooth and result in the home you've always dreamed about.

Equipped with the information above, you’re ready to decide if a production or custom builder is your best bet. A good production or custom builder will each deliver a high quality home that’s personalized for you with much better energy efficiency and indoor air quality than a typical resale home. So, the difference comes down to how many choices you’d like to make to determine the unique look and feel of your new home. Article provided by

Is a newly built home right for you? Do you want a home that you've helped design and that offers the latest in energy efficiency and design? Or a previously owned home that may need fix-ups, paint jobs, and walls moved around to create the types of open spaces that make sense today?

These are baseline questions that confront many home shoppers early in the process. Your own answers are likely to depend on your lifestyle preferences, financing needs, and the priorities you put on features like high energy efficiency, functional arrangements of interior living spaces, and your desire, budget and aptitude when it comes to repairs and capital improvements.

There are a number of reasons you might prefer a resale house, even if it needs work. For instance, you may have your heart set on moving to a specific neighborhood in the city or a close-in suburb, where newly-constructed houses are rare or not available unless you buy an existing home, tear it down, and build a new home on the lot. Or you may be a do-it-yourself aficionado and relish the opportunity to take an old house and transform it, even if that takes considerable time and money.

So it’s understandable that some buyers prefer an existing house in an older neighborhood. But have you seriously considered the potential advantages of buying new? Here’s a quick overview of some of the important plusses of new homes to think about:

Energy Consumption/green building. If you care about “green” – whether that means the money you spend on energy bills every month or your concern about the environment – a newly constructed home is virtually always the better option. Homes built today must meet far tougher national code standards for energy efficiency than just a few years back. Most newly-built homes, in fact, come with energy certifications covering walls, roofs, windows, doors and even appliance packages. Virtually no resale homes offer certifications because they were built to much lower standards – often decades ago, when energy usage was an afterthought.

You can retrofit many elements of an existing house to improve its energy efficiency, but it’s costly. Even then, because of design shortcomings, you may not be able to achieve the level of efficiency that is now routine with a newly-constructed home. In addition, new homes typically offer better air filtration which increases indoor air quality, reducing symptoms from those who have asthma or allergies.

Flexibility: Spaces, Wiring Customization to your needs: When you buy a resale house, you get what’s already there. That may include room layouts, ceiling heights and lighting that may have made sense in the1950s or earlier – formal dining rooms, small kitchens, fewer bathrooms and windows, and the like. With a new home, by comparison, you can often participate in the design of interior spaces with the builder, in advance of actual construction. Plus many new homes come with the sophisticated wiring that’s needed for high-speed electronics and communication equipment, entertainment centers and security systems. With an older home, you may have to spend substantial sums of money to take down walls where that’s possible -- some are so-called load-bearing walls that are not easily moved – to enlarge rooms in order to create the flowing, more open living space that is preferred today.

Replacement Costs: By definition, with a new house everything is new, including costly components -- such as the furnace, water heater, air conditioning unit, kitchen appliances and roof, -- and doors, windows, and more. In a new home, most of these components come with a warranty, sometimes for up to 10 years. With a resale house, the equipment and structural features you buy have been in use for awhile, and may be close to needing replacement. There may or may not be warranties, but if there are they probably have significant limitations.

Consider some of these typical capital improvements that may be part of the true cost to you over the early years of a purchase of an existing house:

  1. Heating and air conditioning: The typical furnace has a 20 year life expectancy; the typical central air system 15 years. Replacing them could cost you $5,000 (air conditioning unit) and $4,000 and up for the furnace, depending upon the system you choose.
  2. Flooring/carpeting/tile/hardwood floor refinish: You’re virtually guaranteed to replace some carpeting in a resale home and you may need to upgrade other flooring or finishes. Costs can run anywhere from a few thousand dollars to well over $15,000, depending on your choices.
  3. Roof: the average shingled roof lasts about 25 years. Replacement costs can be anywhere from $5,000 up.
  4. Exterior painting. With a new house, you get to select the color. With an existing house, there’s a good possibility you’ll want to repaint. Typical cost: $5,000 and up.
  5. Interior painting. Again, with a new house, you choose the wall colors of the rooms as part of the package. With an existing house, you’re probably going to want to repaint some of the interior. Even if you do it yourself, it will cost money and time.
  6. Kitchen remodel: think anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000.
  7. Master bath remodel: $15,000 and up.

Bottom line here: Although you – and your budgetary resources – control what you improve and when, it’s highly likely that you’re going to spend money on at least several of these capital improvements in the early years following purchase of a resale house. They are the unadvertised costs of not buying new.

Safety Features, especially from fires: Newly-built homes come with modern fire retardants in materials such as carpeting and insulation, unlike most existing houses. Builders also hard-wire smoke and carbon monoxide detectors into their homes, making it unnecessary for new owners to install less-dependable battery-powered detectors. Many builders also back up their hard-wired detectors with battery power to handle electrical outages.

Mortgage Financing: Builders often have mortgage subsidiaries or affiliates, and are able to custom-tailor financing – down payments, “points,” other loan fees and even interest rates – to your specific situation. Many are also willing to work with you to help defray closing costs at settlement. Sellers of resale homes may be willing to offer contributions to settlement charges, but you can be certain they don’t own a mortgage company and thus have the leeway to come up with the loan you need. When you finance a resale purchase, you are basically on your own.

Resale value: You may plan to live in your next home many years, but at some point, most people sell a given home for any of a myriad of reasons – moving to a bigger home to accommodate a growing family, moving down to smaller digs when children are gone, moving across town or across the country for another job, etc. While the home you sell will (by definition) no longer be new, a 5-year old home will often be more desirable – given all the features above – than a 25-year old home at resale.

The decision to buy a newly built or used home is ultimately best made by each home buyer. Now you know the questions to ask, and the relative costs involved, in order to make the best decision for you. Article provided by

  1. How many years have you been in business? How many homes have you built?
  2. Are you licensed (where required) and insured?
  3. How do you compare yourself to other builders? What are the most important benefits of the homes you build?
  4. What type of warranty do you offer?
  5. Can you give me references from prior home buyers? Do you build model homes I can tour? If not, can you help me make an appointment to see a home you built for another customer?
  6. What are the major energy-saving features of homes you build?
  7. Do you build only from home plans you supply? Or can I provide my own set of plans?
  8. What standard features do your homes include? What options and upgrades can I select?
  9. Who will oversee the construction of my home? Who should I contact with any questions I may have?
  10. How and when can I make changes or upgrades before and during construction?
  11. How and when will the final price for my home be determined?
  12. How often (and when) will I have access to the home during the building process?
  13. How long will my home take to complete?
  14. Does the community have a Home Owners Association and/or an Architectural Review Committee? If so, may I get a copy of their rules and the amount of any fees?
  15. What's your process for inspection at key points of construction, at final walk-through, and to address any matters that need to be corrected or finalized?

There are certainly other important questions you may wish to ask, so feel free to add them. However, experts agree the list above is a great starting point to select the firm to build your new home. Article provided by

Why are more and more home shoppers seeking greener homes?

The answer is simple: Up to 30% cost savings on utility and water bills--as well as greater comfort year round and higher indoor air quality for you and your loved ones.

In a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), builders reported that more and more consumers are seeking greener new homes. In addition to lower energy costs, home shoppers are increasingly asking builders for features that provide higher indoor air quality and a draft-free, comfortable climate inside their home year round.

Looking to the future, 68% of builders surveyed by NAHB said that the new homes they expect to build in 2015 will include even more green features and technology, based on increasing home buyer demand.

From 2012 to 2015, builders predict consumer demand will continue to increase for green features that include:

  • High performance, multi-paned windows with low-E (low energy conducting) glass
  • And windows with an insulating layer of inert gases between panes of glass
  • Engineered wood beams, joists and trusses
  • More efficient heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems
  • Increased demand for water-saving features such as dual-flush toilets and low-flow faucets

According to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees the Energy Star program, more than 1 million Energy Star Certified homes have been built by 8,500 participating builders since the program was launched.

Last year, the EPA estimates that owners of Energy Star Certified new homes saved a collective $270 million in energy costs and reduced greenhouse gases by an amount produced by 370,000 vehicles.

What does that translate to for owners of Energy Star homes? The EPA says homeowners in hot and humid climates can expect to save $700 per year in utility costs.

Even if you only plan to live in your house for five years, such savings add up quickly. Over time, your savings on maintenance and energy can mean thousands of dollars you retain.

Come time to sell, a newer, more energy-efficient home is typically worth more than an older house that lacks such energy-saving features. Cost savings while you own your new home plus probable higher value at resale are an unbeatable combination. Given that value proposition, let's take a look at what it takes for a new home to earn Energy Star certification:

6 Musts for an Energy Star Certified New Home

  1. High-Performance Insulation and Air Sealants.
  2. High-Performance Windows.
  3. Tightly-Sealed Ductwork and Tight Construction Standards.
  4. High Efficiency Heating and Cooling Systems.
  5. Energy Efficient Kitchen Appliances, Lighting and Water Heaters.
  6. Expert, Independent Verification by Home Energy Raters.

Building science and technologies have made huge strides in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a typical new home built today is 30 percent more energy efficient than a home built just 5 years ago--and no comparison to homes that are 10, 15 or 20 years old or more.

Today's new homes are more energy efficient and less expensive to operate. They also provide better indoor air quality and year-round, draft-free comfort. With better HVAC, problems common in older homes (such as moisture condensation on windows, peeling paint or even mold) have been greatly reduced or eliminated.

Higher indoor air quality also means less dust and pollen that can trigger allergy and breathing problems, especially in children. If saving thousands of dollars in costs over the life of your new home isn't sufficient incentive, you can feel comfortable knowing that you and your family will breathe easier in a new home as well. Article provided by

As you plan your new home, one of the most important decisions is selecting the floor plan. The arrangement of rooms, the flow from one room to another and the use of space help determine the feel of your new home.

Builders have long recognized the vital role that floor plans play in determining your opinion of a home. That's why many builders create furnished model homes that home buyers can walk through, to better experience a new home before purchase.

However, like many buyers, you may be considering a floor plan that's not available for tour as a model home. If so, there are several simple tips that will have you reading a two-dimensional floor plan like a pro.

Calculating Sight Lines

As you shop for a new home, you may find two homes that have similar square footage — but one plan seems significantly larger than the other. How can that be?

It's not just the size of the home, it's the way the square footage is divided into rooms, and the way those rooms and spaces flow. A key driver of all of this can often be sight lines.

In architectural parlance, sight lines are what you see from any given point in the home, whether you're standing in a doorway or sitting in a room. When sight lines are blocked by a wall or a closed door, a home can feel smaller. The reverse is also true: Open things up a bit, show a hint of what lies beyond a given room, and a home will often look and live larger.

You can check a home's sight lines easily with simple tools — a printed version of the floor plan, a ruler, and a pen. Start from the middle of a doorway. Draw a straight line to various focal points in the home. Do the sight lines you drew stop within that same room? Or do they extend through adjoining rooms or spaces? And when a sight line does end, does it intersect a featureless wall? Or do you get a glimpse of a fireplace or a window and the courtyard beyond?

Use this simple and effective technique to check sight lines from various places you'll sit within the home. What will you see from the breakfast table? The family room sofa? From your bed as you read the Sunday newspaper?

As you or a guest moves through your home, it's far more interesting to get a preview of what's to come with subtle hints and intriguing clues of the spaces that lie beyond your current location, as opposed to feeling cut off from the rest of the home.

That's why so many home buyers look for an open kitchen that faces a family room or great room, so someone preparing a meal can talk with others in the adjoining family room. A hot trend in home design is creating kitchens that provide front-row seats for family and friends to marvel at the skill of the chef.

Think About Traffic Patterns

While sight lines are important, the feel of a home isn't based solely by what you can see from a given location in a home. In many ways, the true measure of a floor plan is the feeling you get as you move through the home.

Many builders these days have reduced or even eliminated hallways. It's becoming rare to use a hallway to move from one space to another — they can be a waste of space. In many cases, rooms themselves have become our passageways. This has the added advantage of making smaller rooms seem larger when they open to other rooms with good sight lines. But when you walk from the master bedroom to the kitchen, do you want to walk between the sofa and the TV? If your master is upstairs, do you want to walk down the stairs and pass through the entry in your pajamas to get a glass of water?

The best floor plans use a technique called horizontal banding to accommodate traffic patterns. For example, if the family room is flanked on one side by a master bedroom and on the other side by the kitchen, the doors or openings should be kept to the same side of the home. If not, you create a traffic pattern that forces you to navigate diagonally through another room — in this case, the family room. It can also make furniture placement more difficult.

A stairway at the front entry of your home is not always the best solution, either. It's often better to place the staircase entrance in the family room or kitchen. This positions the stairs in the center of the home for better access; it can also make better use of space.

And don't settle for just one way in to the kitchen. The kitchen truly is the heart of the home. The more ways in, the merrier. You don't want bottlenecks during parties and family gatherings. A good rule of thumb is three ways in, minimum. More is even better.

Balance Privacy and Togetherness

The relative placement of rooms can play a major role in how a home lives. Do you really want your children's bedrooms directly above (or adjacent to) the master bedroom? We all love our children, but even the closest of families need their privacy. Ideally, the master bedroom shouldn't be too close to your home's media room or main television set. With the popularity of surround sound, TVs have become louder. The best plans keep the master suite at a comfortable distance from other activities in the home — ideally in its own wing, with nothing above or below it, and few common walls.

Not all room adjacency issues deal with privacy. Sometimes it's about togetherness. For example, kitchens should not isolate the person preparing the meal. Eat-in kitchens are great places to bring families and friends together. By combining food preparation and dining, you can create wonderful opportunities for conversation and closeness.

The game room concept is changing, too. Instead of just converting an extra bedroom, families are finding children's retreats to be far more useful. A children's retreat consists of a common recreation/study that serves as the hub of the children's activities and is surrounded by their bedrooms. This area of the home becomes a special place just for the kids, where they can do their homework, play games or watch TV — while mom and dad enjoy some quiet time with a movie or reading by the family room fire.

Consider Window Placement

It doesn't take a lot of windows to make an impact on the personality of a home. You just need to know where to put them. And, as you may have guessed, sight lines play a large role here, too. An expansive rear wall in the family room doesn't have to be filled with two-story windows to bring in the beauty of the outdoors. Even a 20-foot vaulted ceiling doesn't call for windows all the way to the top. Besides wasting a lot of energy, it may not improve the look and feel of the room. A strategically-placed set of six or eight-foot windows can have just as much impact and be far more economical.

Small windows under cabinets and above countertops are becoming increasingly popular. A bay window in a small dining area will make it seem much larger. Pay special attention to the interior/exterior relationship created with windows. What direction does the window face? Will it give morning or afternoon light? You may want eastern exposure for a breakfast room window that frames colorful landscaping bathed in morning light. However, large windows with western exposure may not be a good idea for a family room with a large screen TV.

Additional windows that act as an eyebrow above the main window (known as Palladian windows) can add character to a home. However, they can also add cost, so make sure they're located where they will have the greatest impact and not hidden away where people can't enjoy them every day. Article provided by

Finding someone who can take your vision and make it a reality is an exciting challenge. The result is well worth it - a new home that will give you years of enjoyment. Since choosing the right builder is an important first step, here are six smart ways to assemble a list of finalists and speed your search.

Search online: More than 90 percent of home buyers start their home search online. It’s the best way to zero in on homes in your desired area and price range that offer features and amenities important to you. While searching online is an ideal way to narrow down your shopping list, it’s not a substitute for visiting the new home community in person; more on that below.

Join the Parade: Many cities offer an annual Parade of Homes. This usually consists of several state-of-the-art new homes, each beautifully furnished and landscaped, from leading builders.

Typically, Parade homes are built side by side in a single new home community. You can simply stroll from home to home and spend as much time in each home as you wish. Most Parade of Home events occur annually -- and each typically is only open one to two weekends per year. A good way to find your local Parade of Homes is to search Google for the phrase “(your city name) Parade of Homes.”

Take the Tour: A Tour of Homes is much like a single-site Parade of Homes (see above) but it typically consists of model homes in several different new home communities around town. It’s also a great opportunity to see some of the best builders in your area. The homes on a multi-site Tour are usually decorated, furnished and landscaped, as well.

Your local Parade of Homes and Tour of Homes are ideal ways to see several great new homes and builders quickly and to get a great feel for architectural and design trends, price ranges, hot interior design trends, and the latest options and amenities available in new homes. Many Parade and Tour events also recognize top homes with awards, which leads us to…..

Consider Industry Awards and Recognition: If a builder has won design awards (such as Best in Show or Best Kitchen) in the local Parade of Homes, that’s another way to add good builders to your short list. Since many good builders may not take part in the local Parade (that event may cater to custom homes with well above average prices) so don’t overly weight this, but awards can be a plus.

Drive through areas and neighborhoods that most interest you: OK, this sounds low-tech, but it’s not. Especially if you first used the steps above to narrow your focus to specific new home communities, with builders that offer homes in the style and price range you want.

Screened this way, driving around neighborhoods you’ve named as your finalists is a great tool. Stop and ask homeowners about their builder, how he or she performed, and the level of service before, during and after the home was built. You may learn of a builder you hadn’t considered yet who could be a perfect match.

Master the Models – Homes, That Is: You shopped online. You made a short-list of homes in your part of town and price range. You’ve driven through your targeted communities and talked to home owners. Now it’s time to visit the model homes from builders on your short list.

There’s no better way to see so many important things, so quickly, first-hand and unfiltered: How do rooms flow from one to another? What signs do you see of craftsmanship and quality? What’s the builder’s unique approach to design, construction and energy efficiency? How well did they listen to your needs? If the sales team listened carefully to your needs, odds are good this builder’s design and construction team will be focused on you, as well.

Ask questions. Jot down notes. Shoot photos on your cell phone. Gather brochures and floorplans. Add notes to them as well. For more tips from the pros on maximizing your visit to the model home (and keeping all of them straight in your memory) see the recommended article below.

Mastering the models and the other five shortcuts above are a great way to identify a shortlist of great builders and to help you decide which builder is the best fit to build your new home. Article provided by

For many homebuyers, the allure of selecting land and building a new home is compelling - and understandably so.

Many buyers have a vision of their dream home that includes the land their home will rest on, as well as the design and construction of their ideal home.

When you speak to homeowners who’ve had the opportunity to build on their lot, most will tell you that selecting a favorite piece of land and then designing and building a home that fully leverages the unique topography and views of the lot is a deeply rewarding experience.

Given that, it's not surprising that people often start their new home journey with a piece of land they’re considering buying. If you’re such a homebuyer, step one – ideally, before you purchase land – should be a careful assessment of the feasibility and cost to build on that parcel of land.

Many people are attracted to undeveloped and remote areas – and such land can be beautiful. If you have your eye on ridge-top land with commanding views located far from power lines, you and a building professional with expertise in build on your lot homes should give thought to the feasibility and the cost of creating what builders refer to as a buildable lot.

Break Ground Without Breaking the Bank.

To the untrained eye, a lot or parcel of land may appear to be easily buildable, but prove not to be. More than one land lover has learned the hard way that ignorance can be expensive, but knowledge is power.

Especially if you’re in the market for land in remote or less-developed areas, it’s wise to consult an experienced builder with local knowledge and strong build-on-your-lot expertise. Inviting a builder to become a part of your land search process can help you avoid more difficult lots and save you money – both on the purchase price of the property and by helping you better understand, in advance, the cost to turn land into a buildable lot.

According to experts at David Weekley Homes, it can be surprising (and not readily apparent to a homebuyer) how much additional site work may be required to make a particular lot buildable. David Weekley Homes builds in 18 cities nationally. As the recipient of awards that include The National Builder of the Year, America's Best Builder, and the National Housing Quality Award, their expertise overall and in building on your lot is strong.

It’s Also Wise to Consider The Lot Carefully, Even in More Developed Areas.

If you’re considering buying an improved lot in an existing new home community, you can probably skip past issues of access to electricity, natural gas, water and sewer connections – since those will likely be in place. However, even in this case, some homework done with an experienced builder will also pay off.

For example, one site may require a foundation for your home supported by below-ground piers. Another site may require extensive excavation work, which can run into thousands of dollars. And there are other considerations as well, including a complete understanding of the easements, zoning laws, property line restrictions, and architecture guidelines and review processes.

The good news? Many build-on-your-lot buyers find few issues to resolve with a prospective lot, but doing your homework in advance is nonetheless wise. So, now you have a great lot or piece of land that fits your needs and budget. What comes next?

Designing a Home That Works Well on Your Lot.

Many build on your lot firms have extensive libraries of floorplans; one of these existing plans may be ideal for your taste, budget and the land you select. In other cases, you may want to modify an existing home plan to better reflect the unique character of your lot – to take advantage of views, work around mature trees you seek to retain, or perhaps to benefit from passive solar heat gain.

While many homebuyers find that an existing home plan or a modified version of a plan will work well for their needs and lot, other buyers may wish to invest in a custom home plan drawn from scratch, to more fully reflect their design goals for their home and the unique topography of their land.

Four Things to Look for in a Build on Your Lot Builder.

When looking for a build on your lot builder, here are four things to consider:

  1. Choose a builder with strong experience in building on a customer’s land. Many builders specialize in building on improved lots in master-planned communities that already have the infrastructure in place (water, gas, electrical, sewer, etc.). Other builders specialize in building on land that requires improvement. Some builders do both. Make sure your builder has strong build on your lot expertise.
  2. Select a builder that offers a variety of floor plans and can adapt a floor plan to the topography of your lot.
  3. Choose a builder that has enough buying power to ensure you receive the best prices for high quality goods. Such savings are passed on to the homebuyer, including purchase price of appliances, light fixtures, and flooring. Consider working with a builder that has a design center where you can choose and coordinate your cabinetry and other options.
  4. Pick a builder that will stand behind and service the home. Make sure the builder has a good warranty program, which typically should include a ten year warranty on certain aspects of the structural integrity of the home.

Leading Build On Your Lot Builders Offer Valuable Insights and Advice.

Many building firms offer structured build on your lot programs. Paul Schumacher Homes is a leading on your lot custom builder in 32 cities and 14 states across the nation.

Winner of the 2011 National Housing Quality Award, Schumacher has built more than 8,000 homes in the last 20 years. About half of their buyers already own land – for those buyers, Schumacher offers a free home site evaluation that includes the positioning of your home on the lot, a review of trees that can be retained or cleared and a review of utilities available.

At Jimmy Jacobs Custom Homes in Austin, Texas, their build on your lot program consists of five steps: Individual Lot Assistance; Home Placement Consultation; Architectural Design Planning; Interior Design Selection and Personal Custom Builder Support.

Regardless of the builder you select, be realistic with your time expectations. While a home can be built in 90-100 days, a custom built home on one's own lot can reasonably take six months or longer.

It’s All Worth It.

Living where you want, on land you may have dreamed about for years, has become an essential part of the American dream. In a culture that values individuality and self-expression, more people are opting to buy their land first, and then building a custom or semi-custom home.

By hiring a builder with a strong build on your lot program, homebuyers can save money as well as the hassle of hiring their own architect and general contractor. Build on your lot builders will assist you with site evaluations, floorplans, permits, coordination, construction, and in some cases, even financing. Article provided by

Your new home consists of a surprising number of components and systems, each designed to work in concert with each other. New homes may look similar to their predecessors, but behind the walls is a different story. They’re engineered and optimized for a high level of performance and energy efficiency.

Regardless of architectural style, on the outside a new home doesn’t look much different than its older counterparts. But beneath the surface is a finely tuned piece of machinery — a building that offers unprecedented levels of comfort, durability, indoor air quality and energy efficiency.

There’s no question that new homes are built to last longer and operate more efficiently and less expensively than their older counterparts. To put it another way, new homes are engineered to perform. They’re consistently comfortable with no cold or hot spots; constantly circulate fresh air for a healthy indoor environment; and provide energy for heating, cooling and hot water at monthly rates that won’t bankrupt homeowners. Thanks to the use of engineered lumber, prefabricated components and advanced framing techniques, new homes are sturdier and have a longer shelf life.

As you shop for a new home, you’re going to hear a lot of terminology, including “smart,” “green,” “sustainable,” “energy efficient” and “high performance.” You might see the familiar blue Energy Star label on the circuit-breaker box or the home may be certified under another third-party, green-building program such as LEED, Built Green or EarthCraft.

Older homes tend to have problems such as air leakage, damp insulation and ineffective drainage, which results in high operating costs and an uncomfortable living environment. That’s why there’s such a keen focus on the building envelope — the roof, exterior walls and floor of the house. The building envelope determines how much energy will be needed to maintain a comfortable indoor environment relative to outdoor conditions. In new homes, it’s designed to substantially reduce heating and cooling costs.

Another term often used in conjunction with building envelope is building science: the study of the interaction between occupants, building components/systems and the surrounding environment. Building science focuses on the flow of heat, air and moisture. A home’s systems must all work together to achieve optimum energy performance and comfort.

Top builders such as Pardee Homes in Los Angeles, Calif., view a home as a collection of related systems and build it so that all the components perform well. “The time invested in analyzing building science has paid important dividends, helping us grow and strengthen our program incrementally; master the green building blocks; and incorporate them in a feasible and practical way,” says Joyce Mason, vice president of marketing for Pardee.

More bang for the buck

Thanks to changes in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Model Energy Code, new homes are 30 percent more energy efficient than those built just a decade ago. The latest code revisions will go even further and call for better air-sealing techniques to reduce heating and cooling losses; improved efficiency in windows and skylights; increased insulation in ceilings, walls and foundations; less wasted energy from leaky heating and cooling ducts; improved hot-water distribution systems that reduce wasted energy and water in piping; and heightened lighting efficiency.

Three of the most critical components affecting a home’s energy efficiency and comfort are: the heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) equipment, ductwork and insulation. Because these components are highly engineered to work together, they must be selected and planned out well in advance of construction.

A best practice is for the builder or HVAC contractor to conduct a comprehensive analysis based on the square footage of the home; the type of insulation; the entry-door materials; the amount of glass; and the orientation of the home to select the right size heating and cooling unit. The size of HVAC equipment is usually expressed in BTUs (British thermal units) or tons. Keep in mind that larger homes may require more than one unit.

Once the house is framed and the mechanical system is roughed in, the HVAC contractor installs the furnace and runs the ductwork. When the home is almost completed, the outdoor condensing unit for the air conditioning is installed.

“The HVAC contractor visits the home at least twice — the first time to set the indoor equipment such as a furnace and lay out the ductwork and the second time to set the outdoor equipment, complete the connections and start the system,” says Steven Ross, business development manager in Dallas, Texas for Ingersoll Rand, the parent company of Trane, Schlage Locks and Nexia Home Intelligence.

The efficiency of an HVAC system is expressed in terms of its SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) and AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) ratings. SEER relates primarily to the air-conditioning system, whereas AFUE is more applicable to furnaces.

“An 80-percent AFUE rating means that for every dollar you spend, you get 80 cents worth of heat,” says Ross. A system with a 95-percent AFUE rating will obviously give you more bang for your buck, though it costs more upfront due to enhancements such as an extra heat exchanger to circulate the hot air longer to increase the efficiency. However, if you live in a cold climate and run the furnace frequently, it usually makes sense to pay for the added efficiency of a higher AFUE rating.

“Typically you’ll see 90 percent or 95 percent furnaces in the north and 80 percent furnaces in the south, although current Energy Star 3.0 and upcoming 4.0 guidelines both require minimums of 95 percent AFUE for North Region states and 90 percent AFUE for south region states,” Ross says. Energy Star program requirements list the states that fall into each region.

The Model Energy Code requires new homes to have HVAC equipment with a minimum 13 SEER rating. In more expensive homes, some builders now include 15 and 16 SEER equipment as a standard feature. Some builders are taking energy efficiency to the next level with net-zero energy homes, which produce as much power as they use due to a combination of technologies such as solar photovoltaic panels, solar thermal collectors and geothermal heating and cooling systems. It may sound like an expensive proposition, but in the last few years the price tag of a net-zero home has decreased considerably.

The technological revolution

Prior to the computer age, architects and designers produced plans and construction drawings by hand. Today they use computer-aided design (CAD) software. CAD programs let the designer switch between two-dimensional and three-dimensional views; zoom in and out; and manipulate, rotate and change the scale of images. CAD software speeds up the design process and results in fewer errors, which translates into a better-designed home.

Home technology has grown in leaps and bounds since the National Association of Home Builders formed the Smart House Limited Partnership in 1984. Smart House L.P., a consortium of building-product manufacturers, no longer exists. But the concept of an intelligent house where a single, unified wiring system (known as structured or integrated wiring) connects the HVAC, security, lighting and entertainment systems has become quite sophisticated. This so-called home automation technology allows homeowners to monitor all of their key systems from a centralized control panel.

Today it’s also possible to monitor a home remotely using a mobile phone or tablet computer - a great convenience for homeowners when they’re out of town or want to keep tabs on a vacation home.

Now that many people no longer have landlines, the most intelligent home is a wireless one. “We’re seeing a lot more builders use wireless systems because they have limitless capabilities," Ross says. “There’s no need to install structured wiring in advance before the drywall goes in and the builder or home buyer knows what they need and where.”

Wireless automation allows many of a home’s systems to be controlled remotely, from thermostats and window blinds to entry doors and HVAC systems. If you leave the house and forget to reset the thermostat, just pull up an app on your cell phone, tablet or computer and change it. If you’re on vacation in Florida and you get a text message reporting that the temperature in your New England home has dropped 5 degrees below the desired set point, you can have it checked out without cutting your trip short. From any location, you can unlock the front door to let in a service technician to fix the washing machine.

Not your grandfather’s windows

The products and materials that go into new homes have been upgraded and improved, with often dramatic results. Take windows, for example. Over the last 25 years, what used to be panes of glass in a hole in the wall are now crucial elements in the overall energy efficiency of a home. There are so many styles, frames and glass options available that builders can easily zero in on exactly the right window for a home’s energy-performance requirements, price point and style.

Most new homes come standard with dual-pane windows, which have space between two panes of glass that is filled either with air or a gas such as argon or krypton. This provides more insulation than a single-pane window. Energy Star-rated windows have three or more panes for greater energy savings.

To allow airflow between panes and reduce or prevent condensation, good-quality windows have warm-edge spacers made either of fiberglass, vinyl, foam or steel. They also have a low-emissivity, or low-e, coating that blocks out infrared rays from the sun, which can make a home hotter in the summer and fade flooring, carpeting and furniture over time.

Vinyl and fiberglass window frames reduce heat transfer and improve the insulation factor of the home and building envelope.

You may not recognize them as such, but it’s become common for new-home builders to use “fabulous fakes” - products and materials that look like the real thing, but in many cases are less expensive, more durable and easier to maintain. These include fiber-cement siding, polyurethane moldings and stone veneer.

Green certification programs: what they mean to you

Today many builders certify their homes under a third-party national or local green-building program. Green builders don’t always seek certification, but knowing that a new home is certified is one way for a buyer to ensure that it’s energy efficient and will last a long time.

“Buyers looking at new construction are seeking a higher-performing home,” says Pardee Homes’ Joyce Mason. “Green building is integral to that performance and quality.”

Mason points out that a decade ago, green products and practices were just getting started when it came to production homes. “Now manufacturers have stepped up the choices in green products,” she says. “They’re more tuned in to building practices, so today’s products fit more smoothly into building processes and cost less. That makes it easier for builders to offer green homes more affordably.”

In recent years, consumers have become more familiar with LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Research Center certifies homes to the National Green Building Standard, the only residential green-building rating system approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Energy Star is arguably the country’s best-known green program. When the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started it in 1992, Energy Star was a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 1996, the DOE began partnering with the EPA on such product categories as major appliances, lighting and home electronics. The EPA also extended the Energy Star label to cover new homes.

Builders who choose to partner with Energy Star must meet a rigorous set of guidelines that include:

  • A high-efficiency HVAC system;
  • Building practices and materials that protect the roof, wall and foundation from water damage and that reduce the risk of indoor air quality problems; and
  • Comprehensive air sealing, properly installed insulation and high-performance windows.

Energy Star builders are required to work with certified Home Energy Raters, who use the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), a standardized measurement of a home’s energy efficiency. The HERS index ranges from zero to 150. The lower a home’s HERS score, the more energy efficient it is. Home Energy Raters evaluate the builder’s architectural plans to help choose the best combination of energy-efficient features for the home and perform a number of inspections and diagnostic tests during construction. Once its energy efficiency has been verified, the home receives the Energy Star label.

Remember that not every home built by an Energy Star partner is necessarily Energy Star certified – check with your builder to make sure the specific home you want is certified.

Better building practices and materials

Home builders have at their disposal an array of techniques, products and materials that reduce construction time, labor and waste and result in a better-performing house. Four of the most widely used products are:

  • Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are made in the factory with an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural facings, typically oriented strand board (OSB);
  • Spray polyurethane foam is used to seal the entire building envelope and prevent air and moisture infiltration;
  • Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) are interlocking modular units, similar to Lego bricks, that are dry-stacked and filled with concrete to form the foundation; and
  • Engineered lumber is the generic term for a group of products that includes plywood, OSB and hardboard. The products are made by gluing strands or pieces of scrap hardwood or softwood together. Both structural and finish products are made with engineered lumber, from I-beam joists and roof trusses to flooring.
  • Under the DOE’s Building America program, the NAHB Research Center has done field work with builders across the country and developed recommended building practices to create a tight, efficient building envelope. For example, optimized framing (also called advanced framing or optimum value engineering) allows more space for insulation and minimizes the amount of lumber used to build a house, without compromising its structural integrity.

    The Research Center also established the National Housing Quality (NHQ) Awards program in 1993 to recognize management excellence in the home-building industry. Entrants are evaluated in eight categories including leadership, customer satisfaction and construction quality. As the winners will attest, the NHQ Awards program is setting the bar very high for their peers - and that’s a good thing for new-home buyers. Article provided by

What are the most popular features home buyers want? And how do they compare to your wish list? With a rebounding housing market comes a rebounding home buyer.

Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau found that homes built in 2012 were bigger and more expensive than homes that were constructed in the last few years. However, today’s home buyers are also more conscious of being green (sort of). Recent new home buyers wanted a unified living space and they placed a high value on storage, storage, storage. How do these preferences compare to the features and amenities that you're looking for in your new home search?

Here’s what a recently released survey, “What Home Buyers Really Want,” of 3,682 home buyers by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) found: When it comes to home buyer preferences, energy efficiency was a frequent characteristic on the most wanted list. Ninety-four percent of respondents said they wanted Energy Star-rated appliances, 91 percent wanted an Energy Star-rating for the entire home, 89 percent wanted Energy Star-rated windows and 88 percent wanted ceiling fans.

Cost savings — not environmental impact — played a major role in making energy efficiency a desirable characteristic, as 67 percent of respondents said they were concerned about the home’s impact on the environment, but would not pay more for it. However, 73 percent agreed that projected utility costs would influence their purchase decision. On average, home buyers were willing to pay $7,095 more for a home that would save them $1,000 a year in utility costs.

Another big want for home buyers? A way to clear the clutter: 93 percent wanted a laundry room, 90 percent wanted a bathroom linen closet, 86 percent wanted garage storage and 85 percent wanted a walk-in kitchen pantry. “Home buyers want help with organization … they want laundry rooms to keep dirty laundry out of the way,” said Rose Quint, NAHB’s assistant vice president for survey research and an author of the study, during a webinar to discuss the findings of the survey. Of those who wanted a laundry room, 57 percent considered it essential and would not buy a home that didn’t have one.

In addition, home buyers are looking for bigger (think three-car or more) garages. They’re using the extra space in garages, not for an extra car, but for storage. Of those, 32 percent considered garage storage as a must-have area in the home.

Based on the survey, buyers can expect to see more homes that reflect casual living that makes the kitchen the center of the home. Quint noted that the kitchen is where many home buyers not only cook, but entertain and watch, well, cooking shows. In that respect, buyers are looking for an open floor plan, where the kitchen opens up to the dining area and living room.

So what did respondents give a big thumbs down to? Elevators, homes in a golf course community, only a shower stall in the master bath (give them their tubs too!) and a two-story entry foyer, which they view as costly to heat and cool.

Below is the complete list of the most wanted – and least wanted – characteristics home buyers want in a new home, followed by the percentage:

Features Most Home Buyers Want

  • Energy Star-rated appliances — 94 percent
  • Laundry room — 93 percent
  • Energy Star-rating for the whole home — 91 percent
  • Exhaust fan in bathroom — 90 percent
  • Exterior Lighting — 90 percent
  • Bathroom Linen Closet — 90 percent
  • Energy Star-rated windows — 89 percent
  • Ceiling fans — 88 percent
  • Garage Storage — 86 percent
  • Table space for eating in kitchen — 85 percent
  • Walk-in kitchen pantry — 85 percent

Features Fewer Buyers Want

  • Elevator — 70 percent
  • Golf course community — 66 percent
  • High-density community — 56 percent
  • Only a shower stall in master bath — 51 percent
  • Gated community — 48 percent
  • Mixed-use community — 44 percent
  • Two-story family room — 43 percent
  • Wine cooler — 42 percent
  • Wet bar — 41 percent
  • Laminate countertop — 40 percent
  • Two-story entry foyer — 38 percent
  • Laundry chute — 32 percent
  • Outdoor kitchen — 31 percent
  • Game room — 31 percent
  • His & Her baths — 31 percent
  • Glass front cabinets — 31 percent
  • Countertop — 30 percent

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Warm, welcoming and comfortable. These words describe the ideal place to get away at the end of the day. The kind of place you want to spend relaxing weekends with family and friends. In a word, your home.

Many homeowners have moved beyond the desire for a private refuge and are instead focusing on creating inviting entertainment areas — a place where family and friends are always welcome.

"The home isn't just for the person who lives there anymore," said Linda Rossi, a marketing manager for Toll Brothers, a leading builder of luxury homes. "It's where people create memories and share their lives with family and friends. The emphasis is now on making a home feel inviting and comfortable."

Toll Brothers, which builds in 230 communities in 19 states, studies the preferences of its home buyers and model home decorators to help determine the latest trends in home decor and design.

"When our buyers begin selecting flooring, designing their kitchens and picking options, trends become obvious," Rossi said. "That combined with the expertise of our model home decorators keeps us up on what's in and what's out."

So what are home buyers looking for?

For starters, one of the most apparent trends in home design is happening outdoors. Courtyards — both interior and front entry — are in big demand. "Courtyards can literally transport you from a city street to a quiet calm even before entering the home," Rossi said. With outdoor fireplaces, comfortable seating and even soothing water features, courtyards are a simple but elegant way for home owners to make a great first impression.

Behind the home, more emphasis is also being placed on creating outdoor entertainment areas around resort-style swimming pools. "The backyard itself is becoming more like a resort with cozier seating as well as larger pools with more features — from waterfalls and fountains to in-pool seating and creative water slides," Rossi said.

In addition, outdoor kitchen areas have been added to the basic barbecue grill. With refrigerators, wine coolers, sinks and ample counter space, there's rarely a reason to leave company to go indoors.

However, when weather or time of day keeps company inside, there are plenty of ways home owners can still impress and entertain.

Game rooms and home theaters have surged in popularity. Game rooms typically offer game or billiards tables, mini refrigerators or a wet bar and perhaps a children's area with board games and junior-sized seating. The home theater has become elaborate with stadium-style seating, large popcorn machines, huge movie screens and state-of-the-art equipment.

Elsewhere in the home, some recent trends are continuing — with a twist.

Stainless kitchens continue to grow in popularity. But today, refrigerators, ovens, cook tops and even microwaves have now gone high-tech. "We've seen refrigerators that have a camera inside and a TV screen outside so you can see what's inside before you even open the door," Rossi said. "There are programmable ovens, stove tops and even microwaves that can 'sense' how long something needs to be reheated for."

With all this technology dominating the kitchen, Rossi said there are still some ways home owners can add a touch of old-fashion warmth.

"Fireplaces are now being found in some unconventional places, like in the breakfast area or near the oven," she said. "We're also seeing fireplaces outdoors, in the master bath and really, throughout the home."

Speaking of master baths, while the home is no longer all about the homeowner, a personal retreat is often found in the master bath. "We call them spa-like baths since they can be so lavish," Rossi said. "We've seen negative-edge bath tubs, dual-head and over-sized showers and whirlpool tubs. The master bath is the one place in the home that is truly a luxury specifically for the homeowner. It's their private sanctuary."

Homeowners are also likely to leave their cares behind in specifically designed meditation rooms. The rooms often take the place of a spare bedroom, den or even a guest suite. Meditation rooms can incorporate Feng-Shui elements for balance and can include large groupings of candles, piped in nature sounds, books on natural healing and big, cushiony chairs. Other possibilities include a massage table, indoor hot tub or wall-to-wall yoga mats.

"The premise of the meditation room is that it's a quiet place to unwind," Rossi said. "No TVs, no harsh lighting and lots of space to stretch out and relax. The decor is typically very subtle. Bamboo floors or mats, soothing greens and neutrals on the walls and small tabletop water fountains for background noise." Article provided by

Don't believe Mick Jagger — if you’re embarking on a journey to buy and build a new home, you can get what you want in your dream home.

The key is to do your homework first — and then to plan and organize your shopping process to ensure that your journey is rewarding, concise -- and most of all, enjoyable.

Builders and consumers who’ve bought and built a new home agree it’s fun, exciting and rewarding. Our goal is to demystify the new home shopping process so you know what to expect.

The key is simple: Ask plenty of questions. As you do so, you’ll learn which type of home, neighborhood and mortgage are right for you and better understand the exciting choices you’ll make -- including which new home community, builder, and lot is right for you -- and choices you’ll make to personalize your home.

When you’re looking at new homes, you’re in good company. According to the 2012 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers from The National Association of Realtors, the majority of consumers considering another home consider new homes. That’s not surprising, since new homes offer:

  • Open floor plans that reflect the way we live today, especially family rooms that open to the kitchen
  • Bedrooms with larger closets and larger, more luxurious master baths
  • Ceilings, countertops are often higher
  • The latest advances in energy efficiency and significant cost savings compared to homes built just a few years ago.
  • Your new home and the products it contains are brand-new and under warranty, meaning more time to enjoy your home, not work on a fixer-upper used home.

Many buyers also value the ability to personalize their new home to reflect your tastes in many ways, such as selecting your favorite colors and styles in cabinets, countertops, appliances, flooring and carpet, tile, kitchen and bath faucets and fixtures and more.

Given the many advantages of new homes, it’s not surprising they’re on the list for most home shoppers. And shoppers not looking at new homes may have a misperception.

“We find some people don’t even consider new construction because they mistakenly think it’s automatically more expensive or more complicated [than buying a resale home],” says Kevin Oakley, director of marketing for Heartland Custom Homes in Pittsburgh. “People tend to shop by excluding things, but they may miss out on a chance to own a home that’s perfect for them.”

For new home shoppers, here’s a roadmap of what to expect:

STEP 1: Calculate how much home you can afford.

We’ve anointed this as the first step, but there’s room for disagreement on whether the mandatory opening move is to determine firmly how much a lender says you can afford.

“I think it depends on the price point. If it’s a first-time buyer situation, (financing is) a great starting point,” explains Angie Colston, vice president of sales and marketing for Ryland Homes in Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla.

That said, some first-time buyers find that visiting model homes before nailing down financing is a reasonable alternative starting point because Colston’s company, like many builders, will help consumers calculate a realistic price point.

In Colston’s experience, people who have already owned a home — known in real-estate parlance as “move-up buyers” — possess a certain savvy about their price range and can go ahead and begin the shopping process, then arrange financing as they go along.

But Oakley of Heartland Custom Homes is more convinced that getting a grip on affordability is Step 1.

“People tend to pre-approve themselves for a mortgage without talking to a financial expert, and often they limit themselves unnecessarily,” he says. “Don’t limit your considerations by ruling out something because of financing matters that you might not understand.”

Generally speaking, builders seek a 20 percent down payment and may require clients to pay for the house in installments as construction progresses. Some builders offer mortgage financing, but as with any loan offer, it could pay to comparison-shop.

Adam Koos is a financial planner in Dublin, Ohio. He tells his clients that as a rule of thumb, a mortgage payment shouldn't exceed 25 to 30 percent of monthly income, and they should have a general idea of the cost of insurance, taxes, utilities, etc.

STEP 2: Define your needs before embarking on your hunt.

Creating a wish list that outlines your preferences -- and indulging in a little honest soul-searching before you start your house hunt – will both pay big dividends with a more focused and shorter search.

As you think about your wish list, it’s very helpful to separate your must-have features from the nice-to-have features that you’d like in your new home.

Think about your lifestyle. Are you into large lots, wide-open spaces and hiking trails? Or are you the high-rise condo with balcony type? While that’s a pretty extreme difference, it helps to think about ideal commute times, schools (better schools add value at resale, even if you don’t have children) and what types of infrastructure (shops, museums, restaurants, libraries and hospitals) you’d ideally like close at hand.

These factors should help you narrow down to a specific part of town. Next is to define the basic attributes of the home you desire. These include more than just the number of bedrooms and baths you want. Do you love to entertain or cook? Perhaps a large family room open to the kitchen is best.

Do you want a home office? A media room? Space for hobbies? All are vital questions to ask before you start your search.

Don’t forget to think about the future. The average buyer lives in a home at least 5-7 years. Many people stay far longer. Think through how your needs will change over the time you’ll be in your new home: Children may come, grow, or leave the nest. Post-college kids may boomerang back home for a time. Will a parent live with you at some point? Will you tire of climbing a staircase? If so, a master bedroom on the first floor may best meet your needs.

Dennis Webb, vice president of operations for Fulton Homes in Phoenix, says his average homebuyer spends at least four hours online. That’s smart. Today, you’ll find photos, floorplans, home and community amenities, videos, virtual tours and a whole lot more online. Your initial online search will save you loads of time -- and help you select the new homes that most closely match your criteria to visit in person.

STEP 3: Start your search on the web.

A so-called aggregator website, such as, is a great place to start. With more than 80,000 new homes, builders and new home communities across the nation, is the largest new home resource in the world. That breadth of new homes for sale allows shoppers to quickly get a feel for many new home communities and active builders in a given area.

While searching, keep your wish list handy. Eighty-thousand–plus listings may seem like a goldmine, but it can get daunting when a simple search in a market (Houston, in this case) nets you 9,221 new homes in 638 new home communities across several hundred square miles.

Fortunately, major real estate sites like offer built-in filtering tools so you can refine your search based on your wish list. Filtering for your criteria (number of bedrooms/baths, minimum/maximum price, and features of your new home will allow you to quickly focus on homes that meet your needs. You can also filter for a specific school district or search for amenities of the new home community (such as a community center or pool and hiking trails) to further refine your search results.

So, you’ve narrowed down your search. What’s next? A great next step is to request information from a builder. Look for key facts on a specific builder’s homes in a given new home community. Other helpful info includes driving directions, contact information for the builder or community, a link to the builder’s own website and more.

Having defined your wish list, narrowed your search results, and focused on the new homes and communities that most closely match your criteria, it’s time to hop in the car and go visit model homes in person.

While shopping online is an ideal way to narrow down your search, there’s simply no substitute for an in-person visit to the homes that match your needs. A home is the largest investment most people make. You need to go see it.

When visiting model homes, don’t overlook the time-honored advice of asking around about builder reputations. When visiting new home communities where buyers have already have moved in, don’t be shy about speaking to residents you happen to meet. Recent buyers are often happy to share their experiences.

Visiting model homes and builders’ offices not only can reveal a builder's offerings, but a builder’s on-site staff can help you better define and refine your needs.

“We do a lot of investigative work upfront,” said Colston of Ryland Homes. “We sit down (with home buyers) and talk and figure out what their needs are and their time frame. We laser-focus on their information, and point out things in the models that are important to them.”

STEP 4: Working with a real estate agent.

If you’re shopping for both new and resale homes, odds are good you’re using a real estate agent. After all, only an agent has the code to open the lockbox that allows you and your agent to tour a resale home. A top real estate agent can add lots of valuable insight into the community and the process.

Terri Hunt, an agent with RE/Max Suburban in Schaumburg, Ill., states that an independent real estate agent experienced in new construction can be a valuable ally.

“We bring a lot of knowledge of local builders’ reputations,” says Hunt. “We may have worked with a builder in the past and understand the type of construction he or she provides. We know the towns he or she is building in, the school districts, etc.”

Whether or not you work with a third-party agent, make sure to fully tap the considerable expertise a builder’s on-site sales team offers.

The builder’s sales consultant has deep knowledge and expertise in the stages of construction, the builder’s library of floorplans, the availability and price of specific lots, the availability of options and upgrades, the builder’s approach to construction and energy efficiency, warranties, and a whole lot more.

STEP 5: Custom or production, which is right for you?

Homebuilding can be sliced into two very broad categories: production and custom. Higher volume or production builders offer a line of specific models (often referred to as plans) at base prices that include numerous specified materials.

In addition to the many standard features included with each home, most production builders offer a menu of product choices and upgrades. Buyers typically can expect to make product and design choices from a menu of options in categories such as appliances, cabinets, countertops, faucets and fixtures, flooring, lighting and more.

Many production builders also offer some variation in the floorplan. It’s often possible to add a bay window or upgrade to a three car garage. Other builders give you the choice of a linen closet or using that space for a larger walk-in shower in your master bathroom. Some builders even offer a bonus room. Based on your needs and desires, you can have this built out as an extra bedroom, a study, or perhaps as a media room.

With the many choices production builders offer, buyers can easily personalize their new home in many ways. If you wish to design a home from scratch, a custom home is your best bet. Custom homes are one-of-a-kind. They’re entirely built to order, created by an architect, and constructed according to the customer’s dreams, wishes and desires. The limits to a custom home are very few: your imagination, your budget, and what a given lot and local zoning rules accommodate.

Speaking of land, custom homes are often built on the customer’s own lot, but some new-home communities are comprised entirely of custom homes. Some large new home communities include neighborhoods comprised of custom homes and neighborhoods with production homes. Both custom and production builders can deliver a high quality home, with the range of personalization and customization above. Article provided by

STEP 6: Go shop model homes that match your needs.

The fun part, at last! Walking through state of the art model homes furnished by top interior designers (AKA merchandisers in the new home world) offers some big benefits:

You get a free pass into an interior design showroom, with the latest home furnishing and design trends on display. Picture Crate and Barrel, Ikea and your local furniture, wall-covering, paint and appliance dealer showrooms all rolled into one. What’s not to like? If you’re lucky, you’ll also score a fresh-baked cookie, a free bottle of water or a pen with the builder’s logo, and a stack of glossy brochures to take home.

Most importantly, you’ll gain a vital (and no-obligation) sense of how it might feel to, well, actually live there.

One place you’re almost sure to visit? The builder’s sales center, which is often located in a garage of the model home that’s been all dolled up. (Look for the landscaped trees and shrubs where the driveway should be!)

A key feature of the sales center is the site map. Picture a large table the size of that ping pong table taking up valuable space in your basement. The site map shows the boundaries of each neighborhood within the overall new home community; such neighborhoods are often differentiated by price, as well as by the size of the home and lot. Individual lots (building sites) are shown in scale.

Here’s where the on-site team shows their stuff: You’ll learn what Phases (parts of the community) are currently for sale. You’ll also see lots (building sites) with a variety of sizes, locations, and in some case views. Not surprisingly, those lots on the ridge that overlook the nature preserve and river cost more than a smaller, interior lot.

When visiting the model home, you’ll also open up the world of options and upgrades. More on that later, too. Suffice it to say, selecting premium lots and options/upgrades will add to the price of your home. That’s a big reason why we recommended that you establish how much home you can comfortably afford and give thought to what features are most important to you and others in the home.

The goals for your model home visit are to gain a first-hand sense of the builder’s approach to design, construction, and energy-efficiency; to assess the quality of workmanship and design; and to compare and contrast the standard features and options of homes from your finalist builders.

Becky Bircher had an "aha" moment in 2011. She and her husband, Matt, were walking through model homes in Eureka, Mo., trying to decide whether to build or buy a resale home. The professional kitchen designer found herself scrutinizing the woodwork.

"The biggest thing for me was checking out the details in the model homes," explains Bircher. "It wasn't who had the prettier countertops. It was, do the door frames line up? Does the builder pay attention to the crown moldings? That was a huge thing for me, personally."

The couple ended up working with Centex Homes, a production builder, and moved into their new home in December.

If you’re leaning toward a custom builder, keep in mind some custom builders also construct models. And many custom builders will arrange for you to tour previous clients’ homes, which not only offers insight into construction and design, but also a chance to talk to the homeowner about their overall experience.

Does it seem like you have a lot to look for in your model home visits? Definitely! And it can all start to blur together if you visit new home communities in quick succession.

To help keep track of what you see, jot down the most compelling details that jumped out to you. Make heavy use of your cell phone camera. Collect brochures and floorplans and make notes on them, too.

One “power tip” from a seasoned new home shopper: Take a photo of the outside of each model home as enter it. Try to include a sign with the builder’s name. You’ll know subsequent photos all came from that home until you scroll to the next home’s exterior.

STEP 7: What’s your timetable?

Good things take time. From the moment you sign a contract with a builder until the day you actually move in may be months or, for a large custom home, more than a year. Obtaining construction permits may take two to six weeks, builder reps say.

“The build time for us is typically 90 to 120 days, depending on the plan,” Colston says. “Overall, (in a production home), it could be a five- to six-month process.”

For a custom home, the timeline is typically longer. Fulton Homes in Phoenix, AZ builds both production and custom homes, so they have experience with both timelines.

“Keep in mind that plans have to be drawn, and homeowners often revise them as they go along,” says Dennis Webb of Fulton. “And it has to go through city permitting. That might add five months to the process. I’d say to expect a year and a half to two years for a custom home.”

If you’re hoping to move in more quickly, a great way to do so is to buy a “spec” or inventory home that’s been partly or fully constructed prior to being sold. A completed inventory home may take only weeks to close. You’ll have all the benefits of a new home but won’t have the opportunity to personalize its features. It can be an ideal answer for a transferee or anyone who wants new construction and needs to move quickly.

Also look for inventory homes that are underway but still some weeks away from completion. A buyer may still be able to select some features and upgrades such as carpeting, tile, cabinets, etc.

One more choice: Buy a model home. When a new home community is close to sold out, most builders will sell the models, with a short-closing window likely. A plus to buying a model home is that it usually contains many extra features and upgrades.

STEP 8: When you pick a floor plan, think ahead.

While home-shopping, you’ll get lots of advice on square footage and home features to accommodate your lifestyle today. Keep in mind that your needs (or preferences) may change over the years or your household may grow in unexpected ways.

“I’ve had two houses built, myself, and I’ve built them thinking that there was a chance that I'd have one or both parents living with me,” said real estate agent Hunt. So she asked the builder to convert a first-floor powder room (situated near a bedroom) to a full bath so her parents wouldn’t need to navigate steps to an upstairs bathroom.

Many production builders offer floor plans that accommodate changes. Lennar, for example, recently introduced its NextGen single-family home, consisting of two separate living spaces, with separate entrances, under one roof so that multiple generations can live together – but not too closely together.

Keep in mind that technology advances, as well. Many builders can take steps to plan for that, such as including conduit and robust wiring during construction. As technology, home automation and media rooms each evolve, you can more easily keep up. For more on this, see our article on future proofing your home.

STEP 9: It’s more than the new house — it’s also the lot it sits on.

Don’t forget the lot. Considerations in choosing a home site might include lifestyle: Do you want to back up to the woods? Perhaps you'd rather be away from a main road or it might be important for your children to be able to walk or bike to school.

Other factors are architectural – some home plans can be built only on certain lots that will accommodate them. A three-car garage needs its space, for example.

In addition to selecting a lot, you’ll often select what’s known as an elevation. These are variations on how the front façade of your home will look. The degree of difference between elevations can be pronounced – windows are moved or added and deleted, the gables (arched rooflines) will vary dramatically, and the exterior of the home can vary from brick, stucco, siding or stone.

Another thing to keep in mind is that nowadays, most developments prohibit building identical-looking homes side-by-side, across the street from one another or even within the same block. This is designed to provide a pleasing diversity of homes and designs, what builders refer to as a streetscape.

Then there’s the sun: “It’s hot here in Phoenix in the summer, and the orientation of the home to the sun can make a big difference in heating and cooling,” says Fulton Homes' Webb. “A lot of people don’t like west-facing yards in the summer, but if they’re buying a winter home, a west backyard would be great.”

Last, consider where your home is placed in relation to intersecting streets. Some homes are positioned so that cars drive parallel to them. Other lots can be raked by the headlights of every car turning a corner. There’s a lot to consider (not just the view) when selecting a lot, too.

STEP 10: The world of options.

Builders in recent years have responded to consumer demand for “personalization” with a huge array of features that are upgrades from their basic offerings. Generally, consumers need to make many of these choices before signing a final contract, because it affects the price.

“There are three basic ways of doing it,” explains Webb of Fulton Homes. “A builder may sell options out of a space in their model homes, or they might send buyers to an outside flooring company or appliance company that the builder contracts with to handle the selections.

“Or, you can do what we do, and what many builders are doing, which is have a separate design center,” he says. “We created it because when we were working through a flooring company, we couldn’t sell everything there. They didn’t have sinks and ceiling fans and light fixtures, etc., so we decided to do our own design center to offer a one-stop shop.”

On one hand, it can be exhilarating to have a house that’s wholly personalized — that’s why some people build, after all — but watch not to overdo it.

Choices that delight you today may lose some appeal over time — or not be to everybody’s taste if you later decide to sell the home. It’s wise to keep resale values in mind when you’re picking out features. If fireplaces are extremely popular in your market, it might be wise to invest in one, even if you plan to use it only occasionally.

STEP 11: Relax, and watch the show.

Whew! You did it! You completed your soul-searching. You made your wish-list, got pre-qualified for how much home you can afford, narrowed your options online and visited a lot of often stunning model homes. You selected options and upgrades, you considered lot selections and premiums, and you debated elevations and colors schemes.

You have chosen (and helped design) a home that’s uniquely you. It’s far more energy-efficient than a home built just five years ago – and light years beyond a 10, 15 or 20-year old home.

You likely have an open floor plan that reflects the way we live today, higher ceilings, larger closets and the peace of mind that comes with knowing your new home (and the products it contains) are brand-new, never lived in, under warranty and poised to give you years of hassle-free time enjoying your home—not fixing one out of date or broken element after another.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully made the transition from the home shopping process to the home building process! And we’ll be doing our best to demystify what to expect while your home is being built in another article soon.

Meanwhile, as a buyer, you can count on a final walk-through of the house prior to the closing. There will likely be other opportunities to see how it’s going. Most builders allow buyers to visit the construction site, though often with some restrictions because of safety and insurance concerns.

Many companies keep their clients posted about what’s happening. Centex buyer Becky Bircher says her sales rep alerted her with photos and news at various stages.

“She would contact me by calling me, texting me, emailing me, even Facebook-ing me,” Bircher recalls. ”Sometimes we would walk through and we’d notice small things in the construction that concerned us, and she'd get them fixed immediately.”

The Birchers initially looked at re-sale homes, but she admits she’s glad she changed her mind and got past a bit of intimidation over all the decision-making.

“It was a tough but quick and fun decision to make.” Article provided by

Selecting the right home building firm for your needs and for the type of new home you seek is one of the most important decisions you'll make in your home buying process.Fortunately, there are some proven ways to speed up the research and selection process and to help ensure that you find a quality builder who’s a good match to construct your new home.

In addition to the 10 key steps below, you may also want to review the other recommended articles at the end of this piece. They offer questions to ask a builder, a comparison of custom and production home builders, and a guide to who does what in the process of building your new home. Together, this advice can greatly speed your search for a builder and increase your confidence in that decision.

10 Steps to Select the Right Builder

  1. Define your needs. What size, type and price range of home do you need?
  2. Experience counts. While every builder was once a new builder, experience matters.
  3. Are past buyers satisfied? Ask for – and check – references from past home buyers.
  4. Verify the builder is licensed (where required) and adequately insured.
  5. Is there a design fit? Does this builder have expertise in the style of home you seek?
  6. Warranty and service. How does this builder stack up for each?
  7. Resale value. Have past homes from this builder maintained or increased value?
  8. Industry involvement. Is the builder a member of the local Home Builder’s Association?
  9. Tour model homes or customer homes. There’s absolutely no substitute for this step.
  10. Look for signs of quality. In workmanship, materials and practices when you tour these homes.

Here’s a bit more detail on each step above:

Define your needs: While some builders construct a broad range of homes, many builders also specialize in a specific type of home, price range, or style. For example, not many firms build starter homes for first-time buyers and also multi-million dollar homes for affluent custom home buyers. The building materials, trade contractors and even the building process itself can differ greatly by type and price of home. Look for a fit here.

Experience counts: Every home building firm (including the most experienced and well-regarded companies today) once built their first home. And many new home building firms were started by experienced veterans of other builders. Don’t overly discount a new firm – especially if their team includes seasoned pros – but do look for strong experience overall and in the type of home you seek.

Are past home buyers satisfied? Many builders offer customer references and referrals. If not, ask. And in either case, follow up. A few great questions to ask: Would you buy another home from this builder? Or recommend them to close friends or family? And don’t forget to ask for the key reasons why a past home buyer would or would not recommend a builder.

Is the builder licensed and insured? Not every state or area requires builders to be licensed, but make sure that you work with a licensed builder in such areas. Ask about the insurance that the builder and his or her trade contractors carry. Make sure that they and you are covered during the building process.

Is there a design fit? A builder whose entire portfolio consists of contemporary homes may not be the best fit for that highly traditional home you seek – and vice-versa. While many builders have expertise in a variety of design styles and architectural details, in general, look for a builder whose work includes at least some examples of the style of home you want.

Warranty and service: One of the top advantages of new construction is that your home itself and most of the products, systems and components it contains are brand-new and under warranty. The peace of mind that comes with knowing that major repairs or a new roof are likely years away is important. In addition, look for a structural warranty of ten years or longer on the home itself, ideally transferable to a new owner should you sell. Also look for a builder who provides prompt and courteous service under warranty and who takes time to explain the proper maintenance and care that any home needs.

Resale Value: Good reputations follow good builders, among homeowners and Realtors. Look for builders whose homes tend to hold or maintain their value. Granted, the last few years saw some declines in home value, for one of the first times in history due to the market. So this is not an exact science, but where you see a builder’s homes maintain or increase in value, that’s a good sign. Also look for Realtor ads that specifically mention the name of a builder for a home for sale that’s now five or seven years old. That Realtor clearly sees the builder’s brand name as a big plus.

Industry Involvement: Not every good builder chooses to join their local Home Builder Association, so don’t place too much emphasis on this. However, such membership does tend to show that a builder is committed for the long-term to the area. It’s also a sign of commitment to new home community developers, building product suppliers and trade contractors that work in your city or town.

Tour model homes and/or homes this builder built for past buyers: Once you’ve narrowed down a list of prospective builders using the criteria above, this is the most important step. Nothing substitutes for touring a home built by a builder on your short list. It can be a furnished and decorated model home that’s open to the public. Or, it can be a home the builder constructed for a past buyer that you visit by appointment. In either case, pay careful attention to the look, feel and quality of the home.

Look for signs of quality: Look for signs of quality construction and attention to detail when you visit the homes above. Also consider the building products that a builder uses. Are they brands with well-earned reputations for quality? What about the homes under construction you passed on the way to the completed model home? Were there signs of care and attention there, as well?

Last, look for the quality of people who work for the builder: Did the builder’s employees show sincere interest in you and your needs? Did they listen carefully? Did they provide good answers to your questions? Were they courteous, prompt and professional in your interactions with them in the model home, sales center or builder’s office?

With the ten steps above, you’ll be well on your way to selecting a good builder who’s a good fit for you, your needs, and the new home you’ll build together. Article provided by

You're planning a new kitchen, as the heart of your new home. Should you go for the trend, or what's hot? Or go for staying power?Well, as with many things in life, it depends.

Some people passionately crave The Next Big Thing. If you're in that camp, you might consider the sleek, modern lines that are flowing toward our shores from Europe.

On the other hand, if you're agonizing about how to design a room that won't be guilty, in a few years, of the cardinal sin of being "dated," you might want to adopt a "transitional" style.

In any case, steer clear of strictly traditional looks and of overdoing the ornateness -- those popularity ships aren't going to sail again anytime soon.

That's what kitchen design guru Brenda Bryan told attendees at the latest Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Chicago, an annual trade event that brought thousands of manufacturers, designers, builders and other industry professionals together to get a grip on what's next for the two rooms that dominate our homebuilding and remodeling decision-making (and our pocketbooks).

"One of the most significant things we're seeing in the marketplace is more of a shift toward contemporary, modern styling," said Bryan, executive director of the Research Institute for Cooking and Kitchen Intelligence, an industry consultant in Charlotte, N.C., in a trends presentation to attendees. She defined "modern" as streamlined, sleek, and with little embellishment; it's "a big trend" in kitchens now, she said.

On the other hand, if you're aiming for more timelessness -- a look that's unlikely to evoke the dreaded label of "dated" should a video crew from HGTV's "House Hunters" find its way into your kitchen in a few years -- so-called transitional styling will have more staying power, Bryan said.

As the name implies, it's a blending of styles.

"Traditional may be busy, ornate. With transitional, you'll still have granite countertops and stainless-style appliances," Bryan said. (More about those later in our story.) "The design is generally clean-lined, but might put just little bit of ornateness in the trim around the kitchen island. The lighting and faucets will be more on the contemporary side."

This year's show seemed to lack any single boffo product -- such as, say, the dishwasher "drawers" that wowed attendees a few years ago -- but there were some noteworthy categories and sightings. Highlights:

Kitchens have migrated outdoors, big-time

Once seen only in warm-weather climates, so-called "outdoor kitchens" have crossed geographic boundaries and spread around the country. And their elaborateness may know no bounds, according to manufacturers at the show, who said sales are strong.

"People want to start entertaining outdoors earlier and stay outside longer in the season," according to Ted Minnema, who was manning a booth for Napoleon Fireplaces and Grills.

To achieve that, some homeowners are seeking ways to generate warmth during those chillier evenings, such as with his company's Bellagio Patio Torch, which delivers a four-foot flame using propane or natural gas.

Some of the products carry stratospheric price tags, such as Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet's pizza oven, at $6,500, which is designed to bake your favorite pie (and other foods) outdoors.

"Yes, people may really spend $100,000 for an outdoor kitchen, but getting one doesn't have to be at that price level," said Christopher Mordi, a Kalamazoo spokesman. "It can be a do-it-yourself project or you can go with less-expensive lines. You can get a pretty nice arrangement for $5,000."

Inject a pop of color

Glass sinks were everywhere at the show, in the proverbial rainbow of colors, many of them with coordinating wall tile.

Elyse DeRoo, marketing manager for the Modono Glass Collection, said recent technology has enabled manufacturers to add intensity to the color; some of them even seem to "change" color--one of the company's blue wall tiles, for example, seems to be purple if you view them from another direction.

The glass-sink mania even extends into the kitchen. JSG Oceana Decorative Glass claims that its Hard Roc sink technology is tough enough to handle the bumps, thumps and sudden temperature change that accompany food prep and cleanup.

Another unexpected pop of color came from Delta, whose contemporary Fuse line of kitchen faucets is part stainless, part chili-pepper red.

Put some brakes on your water bill

The emphasis on all things "green" at previous incarnations of KBIS wasn't so overt this time around, but saving water was a recurrent theme. Specifically, several companies have introduced shower heads that they claim reduce water usage by mixing it with air.

Danze's "air injection technology" showerhead, for example, helps increase the velocity of water pressure without affecting performance, according to Jeanine Murray, associate brand manager for the company. She said the technology saves up to 20 percent of water consumption.

Stainless steel is still king, but it has some challengers

Because many appliance manufacturers continue to take an economy-induced pass on participating in this show, it's hard to judge whether stainless' long-running dominance of the market will continue, though numerous trend-watchers at the show said the ubiquitous metal continues to hold consumers' hearts.

And though stainless faucets abounded, numerous companies were pushing the hardware in gold tones, ranging from bronzes to some with a touch of pink.

If stainless steel is holding its own, granite is entrenched

"Granite is not going anywhere. It's about 60 percent of the market," according to Perry Liu, president of Bestview International, a countertop company in Wood Dale, IL, that was exhibiting at the show.

For one thing, the industry is mining the stone in more areas nowadays, thus increasing the variety of patterns available. And more efficient production methods means less wasted stone, keeping prices down, he said.

Still, laminate countertop manufacturers are coming ever-closer to mimicking the look of stone--they've ramped up their photographic reproduction of the real thing. And both Wilsonart and Formica, two major manufacturers, were showing trim moldings that eliminate that telltale black line that joins the countertop surface to the edge trim.

Quartz manufacturers were all over the show floor, touting what they claim is their countertop product's superior durability and ease of maintenance.

"Transitional" doesn't mean no bling at all

Those ubiquitous quartz companies were showing lots of patterns with a bit of metallic sparkle to it.

"It's just a trend toward dressing up the kitchen," said Kelly McDyre, a spokesman for Cambria. "When you entertain, everybody ends up in the kitchen, so people may want to add a little glitter."

If you can't resist the lure of ornament, Carpe Diem was showing crystal-encrusted knobs and handles that resembled jewelry more than hardware--probably because company owner Anne Stiedl is a former jewelry designer.

"It's a way to add some ornament to a kitchen or bath," Stiedl said. "It's for people who want it but don't want the big old 'Dancing With the Stars' glass ball."

Some ideas were just clever, and worth singling out

Tired of seeing the same old decorative tile inset in your kitchen wall day after day, year after year? Kitchen Palette enables homeowners to switch out the inserts in less than 30 minutes, according to the company. The product, designed to fit into the wall behind conventional cooktops and ranges, is available as a blank frame you can customize with your own tile, and slip it in and out of the wall as you please. It's also planning a series of finished, ready-to-go tile versions.

Tile-Redi has a similar spin -- do-it-yourself mosaic tile niches with everything you need in one kit (11 colors), intended for uses all over the house.

If your family's zeal to charge its cell phones is clogging up your kitchen's electrical outlets, the U-Socket from FastMac has introduced a replacement electrical receptacle that not only powers your toaster but also has two or more USB power ports for phones, IPods, iPads, etc. They're UL-approved, according to inventor Abbi Vakil, and come in a number of configurations. Article provided by

The latest trends in Faucets & Fixtures

Economics, my dear Watson. Think the economy only has an effect on your wallet? Think again – and look to your kitchens and baths as proof.

After weathering tough economic times, it seems Americans have a new appreciation for more practical kitchens and baths.

“Simplicity and classic minimalism is in for faucets and fixtures,” says New York City interior designer Robin Wilson. “This may be indicative of the economic times, as fewer consumers want to utilize their budget for something that will go out of style in a few years.”

Sean Murphy, a home improvement expert with, agrees. Consumers are demanding products that are smaller, practical and efficient products that makes their life easier. “Convenience is a growing trend, especially in the kitchen,” he says. Enter the hands-free faucet to fit that niche. Hands-free faucets are gaining popularity, Murphy says, because kitchen tasks are made easier by allowing users to simply touch the faucet to activate water flow, or in the case of Kohler’s Sensate and Moen’s MotionSense faucets, there’s no need to touch the faucet at all. Sensors in the faucets detect motion to activate and shut off water flow.

Save Water, Save Money

While hands-free faucets may make filling large pots of water easier, consumers are attracted to them for more than convenience. “Our customers are gravitating toward (touch-free faucets) because they are cleaner and help save water,” says John A. Petrie, president-elect of the National Kitchen and Bath Association and owner of MH Custom Cabinetry in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

As water prices increase nationwide, so has demand for water-saving – and, thus, money-saving – products. That’s something today’s kitchen and bath manufacturers are savvy to, says Bob Rodenbeck, director of research and development for Delta Faucet Company in Indianapolis, Ind. He says manufacturers are creating water-efficient products that meet consumers’ needs, without requiring consumers to change their habits.

As a result, the days of water-saving dribbling faucets and showerheads are over – many manufacturers now use aeration or air induction technologies that increases air flow while reducing water flow, which means no loss in water pressure. One such example of aerator tech is Pfister’s Glenfield faucet, which features a Triflow Aerator with an Eco Setting that uses 50 percent less water.

We Want Pretty, Yet Easy to Maintain

While stainless steel continues to be a popular finish for faucets and fixtures, Petrie says brushed chrome and nickel and bronze-like finishes are quickly becoming favorites. Such finishes are “especially desirable because they don’t show many marks – fingerprint, water spots – so they’re easy to live with and are family friendly. People are attracted to those types of finishes because they are just easier to care for.” He also adds that contemporary, sleek, European-style faucets and fixtures are replacing straight lines and bold angles.

Houston interior designer Pamela O’Brien says less is definitely in. “Once upon a time, there were separate hot and cold handles and sometimes even a soap dispenser,” says O’Brien, of Pamela Hope Designs. Now customers are requesting single-handle faucets and pull-down sprayheads to help reduce clutter and the amount of time it takes to clean them. “People want something easy – if something is beautiful but hard to maintain, they get frustrated and are not happy with it in the long run.”

In addition to making faucets and fixtures easier to maintain, customers are adding flair to the kitchen and bath without going over the top or spending too much money. They’re doing that by getting bold with color, says Travis Rotelli, senior interior designer at the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, Wis. “This year, there’s been a reintroduction of color in the kitchen and bathroom space. Using color in these rooms can introduce a wow factor that is budget friendly.” Delta Faucet’s Fuse Kitchen Collection, for example, includes a split-finish pull-down faucet that combines a stainless steel finish with a choice of red, black or white.

Kitchens and Bathrooms Go Digital

As more people use smartphones and similar technology, staying connected – even while in the kitchen or bathroom – will become more common. “As technology continues to infiltrate virtually every aspect of our lives, and every nook and cranny of our home, manufacturers will be challenged to develop solutions that make the tech invasion as seamless – and stylish – as possible,” says Ji Kim, director of global design for Moen.

Expect to see more tech in your kitchens and bathrooms, like the Kohler’s Moxie, a Bluetooth-enabled showerhead that allows users to stream music or news while showering. Article provided by

Home buyers today don't want over-the-top exuberance, but they still like to have a little fun.

International Builders Show, Las Vegas — If any single event might be counted on to function as a barometer of our collective state of mind, it would be the International Builders Show (IBS), an annual trade gathering where manufacturers hawk all manner of products calculated to appeal to builders — and, in turn, to the nesting instincts of the American consumer.

At the height of the housing boom half a dozen years ago, for example, it seemed that the nearly endless aisles of exhibitor booths at IBS were heavy on glitter and flash — just like many of the homes of that heady era.

But this year’s event, held here in late January, seemed to reflect a renewed — though practical — optimism that economists and builders at the gathering said was the new mantra of housing consumers today, as the country emerges from the recessionary doldrums: Bye-bye, (occasionally wretched) excess. Hello, attainable luxury.

To be sure, the show visitor could still peruse acres of pneumatic nailers, fiberglass insulation and the like that are the staples of homebuilding, but there was also plenty of domestic-life eye candy on display, too. A sampling of what’s coming next for Americans’ dream homes:

A double blast in the shower

Where would be a good place to stash a speaker in order to play backup while you warble in the shower? How about within the showerhead itself? Kohler has nestled a Bluetooth-enabled speaker in its Moxie showerhead so that you can synch up all of that music stored in your mobile devices. And if you need a speaker somewhere besides the shower, Moxie pops out and can be charged up to play wirelessly wherever else you might need a blast of sound, such as the family room or at the beach. It works with a rechargeable, built-in lithium-ion battery, which, for those of you who favor really long showers, holds a charge up to seven hours, the company says. $199;

A refrigerator you can warm up to

These days, we seem to be asking a lot of our refrigerators, technologically speaking. The latest appliance trick comes from the 29-cubic-foot GE Café French door fridge, which not only dispenses filtered water — it dispenses filtered hot water. The manufacturer says the appliance can heat up to 12 ounces of water in two minutes for oatmeal, a cup of tea or a bottle of baby formula. The human user can choose the perfect temperature or select one of four pre-programmed settings. Available in late 2013, the GE Café models will retail from $1,699 to $2,999, the manufacturer says;

An easier way to charge

If certain electrical outlets in your home turn into a constant battleground for space between, say, the toaster and your phone charger, maybe it would ease electronic tensions if a charger receptacle was built right into the outlet itself. That’s what Leviton has done with its 20-amp USB Charger Receptacle, which can charge two USB- powered electronic devices (tablets, phones, gaming devices, digital cameras, etc.), leaving the regular outlet receptacle free for other uses. The ports — which are engineered to fit into a standard wall box and to use a standard wall plate — incorporate a chip that recognizes the charging power of the device that’s plugged in. The company says the product will begin to ship in mid-March; $35. The currently available 15-amp version retails for $20.

Speaking of maximizing space

ODL, Inc. introduced at the show its On Hand in-door storage and communication system, which puts storage on one side of a cabinet door and a “communication center” on the other. Built into a solid-core interior door, On Hand capitalizes on previously unused spaces: On the cabinet side, homeowners can keep pantry or laundry items, crafting materials, etc., on adjustable shelves. On the other side of the shelving panel is a framed sheet of clear glass with a removable white board that can be a display or message area; a magnetic chalkboard panel is a separate option. $287;

Fresh air, via the sun

Velux America’s Fresh Air Skylight uses built-in solar panels to capture available daylight to recharge a fully concealed control system that lifts and closes to bring in the breeze. The remote-controlled skylight requires no wiring and has an integrated rain sensor that closes itself automatically when it detects inclement weather. One popular size, 21-by-46 inches, costs $1,243, plus installation (and, the manufacturer points out, qualifies for certain tax credits for energy-saving products); Article provided by

The Best in American Living Awards honor excellence in new home design. What trends did this year's expert panel of judges spy?If the houses we build are some kind of barometer of our attitudes, then hooray for us – we seem to be moving toward a mindset that’s becoming more practical, more grounded in reality.

That cultural pat on the back comes from the Best in American Living Awards (BALA), an annual competition whose design-professional judges sifted through photos and floor plans of hundreds of homes, condos and entire neighborhoods to single out the 65 best home designs of 2012.

The judging team found certain consistencies running through the contest entries that represent seven trends that will show up in mainstream design over the next few years. Leading the pack was a whole new attitude toward just how much space is “enough.”

“In the McMansion era, we had square footage for the sake of square footage,” said contest judge Barry Glantz, president of Glantz & Associates Architects in St. Louis, Mo. “We’re seeing a strong trend away from that. People want warm, homey, comfortable.”

Consumers didn’t especially express a craving for spaces that are small, rather, they are asking for spaces that are smaller than what they might have asked for just a few years ago, they said. “I call it right-sized luxury,” agreed architect Wayne Visbeen of Grand Rapids, Mich., a BALA regional prize-winner who addressed a press gathering devoted to the awards at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas in January. His winning design (built by Insignia Homes of Grand Rapids), managed to lop 500 square feet off the original plan through careful attention to the roof lines and other specs, giving the client more money to devote to details that added vintage character – important in a house that was surrounded by others built in the 1920s and 1930s, he said.

Not an isolated event, making better use of space is indicative of a shift in consumer preferences in all house sizes, the judges said.

“Square footage is less important than the details,” Glantz said.

Which brings us to:

Trend No. 1: High-quality detailing.

Architectural detailing is high on buyers’ wish lists – regardless of home size – and contest entries showed detailing that focused on appropriate scale and proportion, according to Glantz and fellow judge Karen Kassik-Michelsohn, owner of Home Accessibilities, a residential design firm in Anchorage, Alaska.

That was particularly evident in the BALA Home of the Year, built by Buffington Homes and designed by architect Wayne Windham of Kiawah Island, S.C. The house, called English Angel, is 4,900 square feet and is filled with English-influenced Arts & Crafts styling and richly stained woodwork, timber trusses and stained glass. “Many of our clients say they may not want a home of this size, but they don’t want to give up nice detailing and beautiful trim and windows,” said Cathy Buffington, co-owner of Buffington Homes in Johns Island, S.C.

Trend No. 2: Come-to-your-senses bathrooms.

The BALA judges noticed that bathrooms, while far from Spartan, are getting smaller and simpler. “They’re not vast, like they were (during the housing boom), said Glantz. “They’re not so gaudy, but highly functional.” He said designers seem comfortable doing more with less – removing extra partitions and space between fixtures and using clear glass shower doors and wall panels to visually expand the space.

Trend No. 3: Kitchens are still king.

Kitchens sell houses and many design use them as the starting point for the rest of the house, the judges said. Watch for “mega islands” to dominate kitchen design in the coming years. “We saw some that were massive,” and doubled as food-prep and gathering spaces and seating for guests, said Kassik-Michelsohn.

And expect to see more white cabinetry. “White is everything – we’re back to white,” she said, adding that it’s not just the cabinets – judges noticed a veritable sea of highly polished white Carrera marble countertops.

Trend No. 4: Specialty rooms.

“Outdoor rooms” for barbecuing and entertaining have been growing in popularity for the past few years and they were a big presence among the BALA entrants, the judges said. Joining the specialty list: an emphasis on pet-friendly spaces. “Pet amenities were everywhere – spaces for dog crates and dog-washing,” said Kassik-Michelsohn.

Glantz agreed. “Pets have become an integral part of house design.”

Another prominent specialty space: Wine rooms, for everyone from the modest enthusiast to the extreme collector, Kassik-Michelsohn said. In addition, the judges saw plenty of bars in entertainment areas of the homes.

Trend No. 5: Lighting that actually lights up the room.

“In past years, lighting was almost an afterthought,” Glantz said. “Now we’re seeing more thought about integrating it into the house.”

It’s showing up in the form of double chandeliers over those big kitchen islands, Kassik-Michelsohn said. And she described pendant lighting as almost ubiquitous, citing one bedroom that suspended them over the nightstands instead of using table lamps.

Trend No. 6: Look up, please.

Raise your hand if you spend an awful lot of time looking down into a small, electronic display screen. We thought so. Although it’s only a supposition, Kassik-Michelsohn said she wondered if designers are trying to give people something to see if they would just gaze skyward: The judges noticed an emphasis on elaborate ceiling detail. “We’re seeing it even in homes with lowered ceilings and in condominiums.”

It’s just human nature, builder Buffington added. “When you walk into a space, where do your eyes go first? They go straight,” said Buffington, whose BALA winner features a massive and detailed ceiling truss over the hearth. “But the natural thing is you want to evaluate where you are – you look out and then you look up.”

Trend No. 7: Room for the whole (extended) family.

Multi-generational living is more than a demographic flash in the pan, the judges said, adding that even when homeowners aren’t accommodating an aged parent, they’re thinking about their own needs down the road. “We’ve moved from ‘Leave It to Beaver’ to ‘The Waltons,’ ” said Glantz. “And people are thinking about where they want to live 10 years on.”

It shows up not only in multiple master suites, but in thoughtful design choices, such as lowering the microwave so that it might be opened more easily by someone with limited mobility or raising the dishwasher for the same reason.

Or they’re leaving space to add an elevator eventually, architect Visbeen said. “It gives some peace of mind.”

He also said that in his practice, homeowners are looking beyond their four walls for extended-family accommodations: Consider a detached garage as a starting point for a separate apartment. “We’re seeing tons of apartments over garages,” Visbeen said, explaining that even when family members didn’t move in right away, the separate suites were used as guest spaces. Article provided by

Plenty, it turns out. It's clear the preferences of Canadian home buyers closely match those of American home buyers.

The award-winning interior designers from Rooms in Bloom shared their experience in a recent blog post. As the 2012 Home Staging firm in Canada, they should know. These experts help real estate professionals and home builders "stage" or decorate homes currently for sale. Like many top designers, Heather Cook and Alana Merrit find the challenge of staying one step ahead of the latest trends when they're staging new homes for sale to be of great value in all of their interior design work.

As you search for a home, watch for the trends below. You'll find today's new homes deliver on the features that buyers like you want most. And when you've found your new dream home, keep these ideas in mind as you feather your new nest.

Let's take a look at how today's new homes compare to resale homes in delivering:

The Top 10 Features Home Buyers Want

  1. Open Concept Homes -- New homes offer spacious, flowing floorplans and high ceilings that older houses don't provide.
  2. Smaller Homes -- McMansions are expensive to heat, cool and maintain. The wide array of new homes make it easy to find the size just right for you.
  3. Outdoor Living Spaces -- True in Canada and even more so in the many temperate areas of the U.S. For example, the 2011 Design Driver Survey from AvidBuilder found that 31.4 percent of move-up buyers (people moving to a larger home) said they either must have or really want an outdoor fireplace.
  4. Neutral Decor -- Probably best for selling a home. However, as a new home buyer, don't be afraid to display your true colors. As we've reported in our blog, whether it's hip designer Jonathan Adler bringing bold colors back to the kitchen with his line of vibrant sinks for Kohler or furniture and bedding in the current Color of the Year (tangerine) more and more homeowners are bravely adopting brighter hues.
  5. Modern Kitchens -- The heart of every home. This is where new homes shine with the latest and greatest design, cabinets, countertops and lighting -- to say nothing of state-of-the-art appliances.
  6. Smart Growth -- Many of today's master planned new home communities offer community clubhouses and pools, protected nature areas, hiking trails, playgrounds and more. Larger new home communities often contain carefully planned retail options and even schools inside the community. It's also not uncommon to find master-planned communities that water common areas with reclaimed water . Which leads us to....
  7. Going Green -- Hands down, new homes win here, too. The Home Energy Rating System (also known as a HERS Score) is an industry standard that rates the energy efficiency of homes. The lower the score, the more energy efficient the home. As the people behind HERS point out on their site ( the U.S. Department of Energy has determined that a typical new home is 30 percent more energy efficient than a typical resale house.
  8. Linen Closets & Smart Storage Options -- New homes take the win in this category, too. Simply compare the much larger walk-in closets of today's new homes with the cramped closest of old homes.
  9. Energy-Efficient Fixtures & Appliances -- Our new vs. resale home comparison is turning into a rout. Today's new homes feature enormous energy efficiency in appliances, HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling equipment) and throughout the house. As we saw, a typical new home of today is 30 percent more energy efficient than one built just five years ago. Compare a typical new home built today to a 10-20 year old home? Game over!
  10. Double Car Garage with Organized Work/Storage Space -- You'd be hard-pressed to find a new home that doesn't score a "10" on criteria number 10. Many builders also offer three-car garages (or larger) that offer enough storage space to make the man of the house grow weak in the knees.

Add it up and it's a landslide win for new homes vs. used in delivering the features that buyers want. The odds are good a new home is your best bet to realize your dream. And while you may plan to stay put for many years, your new home will be much more likely to meet a buyer's needs should you ever wish to sell it compared to a used home that's already out of date today. Article provided by

Here's what to expect during the major phases of construction. Building your new home is exciting, especially when you understand how the process works. The following overview outlines the typical steps in the construction of a home and will help keep you abreast of what happens at key stages.

Keep in mind that the homebuilding process may vary from region to region and builder to builder, especially if you’re building an elaborate custom home. Be sure to ask your builder about his or her specific policies and procedures.

  1. Prepare site and pour foundation: Often, site preparation and foundation work are performed by the same crew, but this may not be the case with a wooded lot. Using a backhoe and a bulldozer, the crew clears the site of rocks, debris and trees for the house and, if applicable, the septic system. The crew levels the site, puts up wooden forms to serve as a template for the foundation, and digs the holes and trenches. Footings (structures where the house interfaces with the earth that supports it) are installed. If your home is going to have a well, it will be dug at this point.

    If the home has a full basement, the hole is dug, the footings are formed and poured, and the foundation walls are formed and poured. If it’s slab-on-grade, the footings are dug, formed and poured; the area between them is leveled and fitted with utility runs (e.g. plumbing drains and electrical chases); and the slab is poured.

    Once concrete is poured into the holes and trenches, it will need time to cure. During this period, there will be no activity on the construction site.

    After the concrete is cured, the crew applies a waterproofing membrane to the foundation walls; installs drains, sewer and water taps and any plumbing that needs to go into the first-floor slab or basement floor; and backfills excavated dirt into the hole around the foundation wall.

    INSPECTION #1: When the curing process is complete, a city inspector visits the site to make sure foundation components are up to code and installed properly. This inspection may be repeated depending on the type of foundation (slab, crawl space or basement). Your builder will then remove the forms and begin coordinating step 2, the framing phase.

  2. Complete rough framing: The floor systems, walls and roof systems are completed (collectively known as the shell or skeleton of the house). Plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing is applied to the exterior walls and roof, and windows and exterior doors are installed. The sheathing is then covered with a protective barrier known as a house wrap; it prevents liquid water from infiltrating the structure, while allowing water vapor to escape. This reduces the likelihood of mold and wood rot.
  3. Complete rough plumbing, electrical and HVAC: Once the shell is finished, siding and roofing can be installed. At the same time, the electrical and plumbing contractors start running pipes and wires through the interior walls, ceilings and floors. Sewer lines and vents, as well as water supply lines for each fixture, are installed. Bathtubs and one-piece shower/tub units are put in place at this point because there’s more room to maneuver large, heavy objects.

    Ductwork is installed for the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, and possibly the furnace. HVAC vent pipes are installed through the roof, and insulation is installed in the floors, walls and ceilings.

    After the roofing goes on, the house is considered “dried in.” The electrician then installs receptacles for outlets, lights and switches and runs wires from the breaker panel to each receptacle. Wiring for telephones, cable TV and music systems is included in this work.

    Note that HVAC ducts and plumbing are usually installed before wiring, because it’s easier to run wires around pipes and ducts than vice versa.

    INSPECTIONS 2, 3 and 4: Rough framing, plumbing and electrical and mechanical systems are inspected for compliance with building codes. Most likely these will be three different inspections. At the very least, the framing inspection will be conducted separately from the electrical/mechanical inspections.

    At this stage, drywall (also known as plasterboard, wallboard or gypsum board) is delivered to the building site. Sheetrock®, a registered trademark of USG Corporation, is sometimes used as a generic term for drywall.

  4. Install insulation: Insulation plays a key role in creating a more comfortable, consistent indoor climate while significantly improving a home’s energy efficiency. One of the most important qualities of insulation is its thermal performance or R-value, which indicates how well the material resists heat transfer. Most homes are insulated in all exterior walls, as well as the attic and any floors that are located above unfinished basements or crawl spaces.

    The most common types of insulation used in new homes are fiberglass, cellulose and foam. Depending on the region and climate, your builder may also use mineral wool (otherwise known as rock wool or slag wool); concrete blocks; foam board or rigid foam; insulating concrete forms (ICFs); sprayed foam; and structural insulated panels (SIPs).

    Blanket insulation, which comes in batts or rolls, is typical in new-home construction. So is loose-fill and blown-in insulation, which is made of fiberglass, cellulose or mineral-wool particles. Another insulation option, liquid foam, can be sprayed, foamed-in-place, injected or poured. While it costs more than traditional batt insulation, liquid foam has twice the R-value per inch and can fill the smallest cavities, creating an effective air barrier.

    Fiberglass and mineral-wool batts and rolls are usually installed in side walls, attics, floors, crawl spaces, cathedral ceilings and basements. Manufacturers often attach a facing such as kraft paper or foil-kraft paper to act as a vapor barrier and/or air barrier. In areas where the insulation will be left exposed, such as basement walls, the batts sometimes have a special flame-resistant facing.

  5. Complete drywall and interior textures; start exterior finishes: Drywall is hung and taped so the seams between the boards aren’t visible, and drywall texturing (if applicable) is completed. The primer coat of paint is also applied after taping is complete. Contractors begin installing exterior finishes such as brick, stucco, stone and siding.
  6. Finish interior trim; install exterior driveways and walkways: Interior doors, baseboards, door casings, window sills, moldings, stair balusters and other decorative trim are installed, along with cabinets, vanities and fireplace mantels and surrounds. Walls get a finish coat of paint and are wallpapered where applicable.

    Generally, exterior driveways, walkways and patios are formed at this stage. Many builders prefer to wait until the end of the project before pouring the driveway because heavy equipment (such as a drywall delivery truck) can damage concrete. But some builders pour the driveway as soon as the foundation is completed so that when homeowners visit the construction site, they won’t get their shoes muddy.

  7. Install hard-surface flooring and countertops; complete exterior grading: Ceramic tile, vinyl and wood flooring are installed as well as countertops. Exterior finish grading is completed to ensure proper drainage away from the home and prepare the yard for landscaping.
  8. Finish mechanical trims; install bathroom fixtures: Light fixtures, outlets and switches are installed and the electrical panel is completed. HVAC equipment is installed and registers completed. Sinks, toilets and faucets are put in place.
  9. Install mirrors, shower doors and finish flooring; finish exterior landscaping: Mirrors, shower doors and carpeting are installed, and final cleanup takes place. Trees, shrubs and grass are planted and other exterior landscaping completed.

    INSPECTION #5: A building-code official completes a final inspection and issues a certificate of occupancy (C.O.). If any defects are found during this inspection, a follow-up inspection may be scheduled to ensure that they’ve been corrected.

  10. Final walkthrough: Your builder will walk you through your new home to acquaint you with its features and the operation of various systems and components, and explain your responsibilities for maintenance and upkeep as well as warranty coverage and procedures. This is often referred to as a pre-settlement walkthrough. It’s also an opportunity to spot items that need to be corrected or adjusted, so be attentive and observant. Examine the surfaces of countertops, fixtures, floors and walls for possible damage. Sometimes disputes arise because the homeowner discovers a gouge in a countertop after move-in, and there’s is no way to prove whether it was caused by the builder’s crew or the homeowner’s movers.

A Few Words about Inspections: Your new home will be inspected periodically during the course of construction. In addition to mandated inspections for code compliance, your builder may conduct quality checks at critical points in the process. (In the story above, we point out when these inspections typically take place.) The idea is to catch as many potential problems as possible before construction is finished, though some issues may not surface until you’ve lived in the home for a period of time.

Talk to your builder early on about attending inspections, with or without your real-estate agent. Even if your presence is not required, it’s an opportunity to learn more about what’s behind the walls of your new home and how everything works. If you’re planning to hire your own inspector to do an additional review of the home, notify your builder prior to the start of construction.

For safety as well as logistical reasons, builders discourage customers from dropping in unannounced at the construction site. If you’d like to pay a visit, be sure to arrange it in advance. Chances are your builder will conduct regular walkthroughs to bring you up to speed on the progress of the work. Article provided by

What you need to know (and ask your builder) to ensure your home has a solid foundation. Footings and foundations are to homes what feet and legs are to the human body: footings anchor the home to the ground and support the foundation, which in turn carries the weight of the home.

Although foundations have been made from a number of materials — stone, block and even treated wood — reinforced concrete is used in the vast majority of new homes. The contractor erects wooden forms, installs steel reinforcing bars (“rebar”) between the form faces, then fills the forms with poured concrete. After the concrete sets, the forms are removed.

There are three main foundation types: full basement, crawlspace, and slab-on grade. Different types are popular in different parts of the country, with reasons that include ground conditions and local market expectations.

Full Basements

Although full basements can be found in many areas, homeowners in the Northeast tend to expect them. A full basement typically consists of footings placed deep below the region’s frost depth and eight-foot-high walls that enclose a four-inch-thick poured concrete slab. This creates an underground room that can be used as a storage and mechanical space, and/or finished to create a living area.

Basement finishing is a growing trend: Homeowners are turning these spaces into recreational rooms, gyms and entertainment centers. If the lot slopes or allows for a walkout configuration, the basement will have natural light, good ventilation and a more spacious feel. If you think you might want to put a toilet in the basement, consider including a well for a grinder pump.

If you plan on finishing the basement, you may want to consider installing rigid foam insulation beneath the slab. While it may not noticeably lower energy use, it could make the space more comfortable. Even when not finishing the basement, insulating the slab and walls can reduce problems with mold and mildew, since the insulation reduces the chance of condensation by keeping the concrete at a higher temperature.

Basements with insulation under the slab “don’t smell like basements and feel clean and dry,” says Portland, Maine architect Jesse Kaplan. “It’s a tremendous improvement over what people are used to. Honestly, I would never build a house without insulation and a vapor barrier between wet soil and concrete for the quality and comfort issues alone.”

He says that under-slab insulation isn’t just for the far North. “Soil temperatures down South are warmer than in the Northeast, but they’re probably below the dew point even more of the year, so the dampness is even more of an issue.”


Crawlspaces are most common in the Southeast and parts of the Midwest. The footings are placed below the frost line, but there’s only enough headroom between the ground and the floor frame for someone to crawl around.

Most crawl spaces include foundation vent openings. They’re supposed to prevent the buildup of excess moisture, but in practice they often backfire by bringing moisture into the space. “Open crawlspaces can become breeding grounds for mold and moisture,” says Brian Coble, who directs the High Performance Homes program at Advanced Energy, a North Carolina building science research firm. “This moisture can soak the home’s framing, leading to rot and structural failure, and can carry mold spores and other pollutants into the home’s living space.”

Building scientists like Coble now recommend sealing and insulating the crawlspace and covering the ground with a polyethylene vapor barrier, or even a concrete slab. These details add cost, but a multiple home field study (27 homes in different parts of the country) by Advanced Energy confirmed that they can also lower space conditioning bills and reduce mold and mildew. As a bonus, you end up with a tempered, dry storage space. If there’s enough headroom, the heating unit can also be placed there, freeing up space in the house.


The slab-on-grade foundation is just what it sounds like: a concrete slab poured at grade level that serves as the subfloor for the home’s main living area. A shallow footing around the edges of the slab transfers the weight of the home’s walls to the ground. Before the pour, a bed of gravel is spread across the slab area to allow drainage, wire mesh is rolled out to reduce the chance of cracking and any in-slab plumbing pipes or electrical conduit is installed.

Slab foundations are most common in warm regions and where there are high water tables, such as Florida. When used in northern climates, special frost proofing details are required, which, in most cases, consists of a short foundation wall (called a “stemwall”) poured on footings placed below the frost line. Putting a layer of rigid foam under the slab in a slab-on-grade home is also a good idea in the North, and absolutely necessary if the slab will have embedded hydronic heat.

Note that using a foundation type that’s not common in your area may affect the schedule and budget. With a slab, for instance, the mechanical systems have to be completely figured out before the slab is poured, so that the proper elements are put in place. If that’s not standard practice where you live, subcontractors may raise prices to cover unexpected time and cost overruns.

Soil Considerations

Regardless of foundation type, the foundation walls and footing are designed to work as a unit, supporting the weight of the home and transferring that weight to the surrounding ground. How well they do this depends in part on what type of ground the footing rests on.

Foundations for commercial buildings are custom engineered for each site, but in residential construction that’s usually only true in special cases. “Almost all residential foundations are designed according to generic expectations of the area’s soil conditions,” says Atlanta-area structural engineer Chris DeBlois. “If the foundation crew starts digging and finds unusual conditions, then they will make adjustments.”

For instance, dense, dry soil will be stable, forgiving of less-than-perfect construction and less likely to settle after the house has been built. But if the site has soft, wet clay, the foundation will be much more likely to settle, leading to cracked tile, drywall and even masonry. In that case, it’s a good idea to get an engineer involved to design a foundation that will remain stable.

Keeping it Dry

Concrete is not waterproof, so water that sits on the outside of the foundation wall will eventually make its way inside as water vapor. “Surface water that seeps into the ground near the house will quickly become an interior moisture problem,” says Steve Easley, a San Francisco-area trainer who advises builders around the country on good building practices. The result: a damp home environment that encourages mold and mildew growth. This is true regardless of foundation type.

To prevent this, a waterproofing coating is usually brushed on the outside of the foundation. Perforated pipe may be placed around the perimeter of the footing to catch any water in the soil and drain it away. Note that most waterproofing coatings require a footing drain for the warranty to be valid.

Landscaping also plays an important role in keeping foundations dry. Easley recommends siting the house well enough above grade so that water can easily drain away from the foundation. Using firm rather than loose soil close to the house will also help.

Signs of Trouble

Small hairline shrinkage cracks aren’t unusual with a new foundation or of serious concern, but some other types of cracks should raise a red flag. “The size of the crack is less important than its configuration,” says DeBlois. “A narrow, vertical crack is seldom a sign of problems, but if the crack is significantly wider at the top than at the bottom, it could indicate that the foundation is settling unevenly.”

The most worrisome type of crack, according to DeBlois, is a horizontal one, which could indicate a structural failure of the wall. Fortunately, this type of failure is more common with block walls and is extremely rare with poured concrete.

Protect Yourself

It should be clear that while designing and building a stable, dry and trouble-free foundation for your home is a straightforward process, proper detailing is important. The best way to protect yourself and your home is to hire an established builder with a long-standing reputation for quality work.

As an added precaution, you could hire an independent inspector to check the foundation before framing begins. This is only done in a minority of homes, but Jules Falcone, a Media, Penn.-based home inspector, says it is worthwhile. “An independent inspector will check the workmanship to make sure the foundation is built right.”

Falcone estimates cost at a couple hundred dollars, depending on where you live. That’s a small price to pay to ensure the job is done correctly. Article provided by

Builders typically schedule several walkthroughs with customers while their new home is under construction and after it's completed. Here's what you can expect at each visit.

You’ve signed a contract on your new home and selected your cabinets, appliances, flooring and other finishes.

If you thought that was exciting, brace yourself — the next step is the start of construction.

No doubt you’ll be eager to watch events unfold on the job site. For safety reasons as well as the demands of a production schedule, it’s not feasible for homeowners to visit the site at will. Your builder will arrange guided tours at specific points in the process.

Practices may vary from builder to builder, but typically there are two walkthroughs: after the framing and mechanical systems are roughed in, but prior to the installation of insulation and drywall and after construction work is completed.

The pre-drywall walk

Maracay Homes in Scottsdale, Ariz., calls the pre-drywall walkthrough the Hard Hat Tour. “Most builders perform this walk,” says James Attwood, construction area manager for Maracay. “Many call it an options walk or a pre-drywall orientation.”

During the Hard Hat Tour, the construction manager confirms that all selections and options have been installed per the customer’s purchase agreement and provides insight into the building components before they’re covered up with drywall. “It’s a good opportunity [for us] to explain a lot of the things that help their home function, but the main point is to confirm that all of the selections are in place,” Attwood says. “After drywall is installed in the home, it’s much more difficult to install options located inside the wall cavity.”

This walkthrough typically lasts from one to one-and-a-half hours. The construction manager reviews the framing of the home and its mechanical systems, which include heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing and electrical. He or she also reviews all selections and telephone, cable and audio/video locations to make sure they’ve been installed according to the construction documents. At this time, the construction manager will go over warranty and service procedures and the customer’s responsibilities as far as maintenance.

To get the most out of a pre-drywall walkthrough, Maracay recommends that customers bring along the following items:

  • Copy of the builder’s customer service manual;
  • Purchase agreement;
  • Selection sheets;
  • Telephone, cable and audio/video diagrams;
  • List of options and upgrades, if applicable; and
  • Landscape and pool plans, if applicable.

The orientation

The second walkthrough is sometimes called a pre-settlement walkthrough. Maracay calls it the New Home Orientation. It takes between two-and-a-half and three hours and is conducted after construction is completed, typically several days before closing.

According to Attwood, Maracay’s New Home Orientation goes beyond the traditional walkthrough to include a detailed demonstration of the home’s operation and a review of the owner’s maintenance responsibilities and warranties. The orientation is also another opportunity for the builder to confirm that the home has been delivered with all construction work completed and selections installed as requested.

At this time, the construction manager demonstrates how to operate the heating and air-conditioning units, appliances, electrical circuit breakers, plumbing shut-off valves and other necessary equipment that keeps a home running smoothly.

During the New Home Orientation, the homeowner and construction manager will inspect surfaces such as floors, walls, window glass, mirrors, appliances and countertops to ensure there are no chips, scratches or other noticeable damage. It’s wise to go into this inspection with an eagle eye, because such cosmetic items will not be covered by your warranty after the orientation. Remember that any items that need attention must be noted in writing on a checklist, or punch list.

“This is the customer’s opportunity to identify cosmetic defects on cabinets, countertops and other things that are susceptible to damage after the customer closes on the home,” Attwood says. “After closing, there is no way to tell if cosmetic damage was caused during the construction process or was the result of damage incurred during the moving process.”

Paint touch-ups are the most frequently noted items on a walkthrough. You should also check hardwood flooring, countertops, carpeting, drywall, appliances, cabinets, windows, bathtubs, showers, tile work and so on. Walk around the outside of the house as well, looking for such things as damaged siding, sloppy brickwork and poorly sealed crevices. If the landscaping is already in, make sure there’s no dead vegetation.

Homeowners are given a stack of documents at the orientation, including a list of emergency phone numbers for critical trade partners (such as heating and plumbing) who may be needed after business hours or on weekends. They also receive the manufacturers’ literature for the furnace, water heater, appliances and other consumer products. But quite a bit of information is conveyed verbally, so instead of relying on your memory, take lots of notes.

Maracay’s goal is to complete all items noted at the New Home Orientation prior to close of escrow. Generally, most are completed before the homeowners move in. If there are any outstanding items when the closing date arrives, Maracay coordinates completion of the work in much the same way a warranty request would be handled. But, Attwood says, “It’s certainly the exception to the rule to have an open item at the time of closing.” Some builders allocate only 30 to 45 minutes for this walkthrough. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed through the process. It’s better to fix small things now, before they become bigger, more expensive problems. It also benefits the builder’s reputation to handle such issues promptly.

The presentation

Maracay schedules a third and final walkthrough, the New Home Presentation, several days after the New Home Orientation. “Typically, for us, it’s about three business days between the orientation and the presentation,” says Attwood. “So if the orientation took place on a Monday, the presentation would happen on Thursday or Friday of that week. Within that time period, we’ll complete all the punch list items.”

Builders prefer to remedy problems before the homeowners move in because it’s easier for them to work in an empty house, but some items may have to be corrected after move-in. For example, if the walkthrough is in the winter, landscaping adjustments may have to be delayed until spring.

During the one-hour walkthrough, homeowners are asked to initial and sign off on the completed punch list items, documenting that the work has been done to their satisfaction. If any new items are discovered, they’re forwarded to Maracay’s warranty department so that repairs can be scheduled after move-in.

It’s common practice for builders to schedule followup visits during the first year of homeownership to make necessary adjustments and perform non-emergency repairs, such as nail pops in the drywall. Nail pops occur due to the natural settling of the house and are best addressed near the end of the first year.

While it’s important for customers to verify that punch list items have been completed, the New Home Presentation is really more of a celebration, Attwood says. When the new owners pull up in front of their home, they see a “Welcome to your new Maracay home” banner strung across the garage door. Typically the entire team is present, including the project manager, the warranty representative and the salesperson. “We give them the keys and a gift basket and take pictures of them in front of the home,” Attwood says.

Walkthrough Dos and Don’ts


  • Make a list in advance of any questions you have about maintenance and warranty procedures.
  • On the date set for the walkthrough, make sure that you’ll be able to devote all of your attention to the task at hand. Try not to schedule other appointments.
  • Bring pens, paper, a clipboard and a digital camera so you can take notes and photos.
  • Bring your purchase agreement, customer service manual, selection sheets, audio/video diagrams and landscape and pool plans, if applicable.
  • Wear clothing that is appropriate for walking a construction site, including closed-toe shoes.
  • Park in the street, not the driveway, especially if the home is still under construction.
  • Keep your hard hat on during the tour.
  • Verify the expected dates for completion of repairs, if any are needed, and get a copy of the completed punch list before you leave the site.


    • Be late for the walkthrough. Builders have busy schedules and may have appointments with other customers on the same day. • Bring pets, children or other family members and friends. You’ll need to focus your attention on what is being presented. • Rush through the walkthrough. Take your time and be thorough. • Be shy about asking a lot of questions. Article provided by

What's the "right" way to build your new home? There are several proven methods of construction, each of which will result in a high quality, well-built home. The best building method to use for your new home is an important discussion to have with your builder – and your architect, if you've hired one to create a custom home plan.

While most new homes in the U.S. are framed on site using conventional lumber, there are other ways to build a new home. Below is an overview of the most common building systems. Equipped with this information, you and your builder are ready to decide which method of construction is the best approach for your new home.

Traditional Stick-Framing

What most likely comes to mind when you envision a new home being built is something called "stick framing." This building system takes its name from the fact that workers assemble the skeleton of the home – wall studs, floor and ceiling joists, and roof trusses or rafters – stick-by-stick, usually on the jobsite, using lumber cut to varied sizes. This includes the familiar “2 by 4,” which has dimensions of roughly two inches by four inches.

Stick framing is also sometimes called platform framing, because workers build the first-floor platform on the foundation. This is followed by framing the first-story walls, adding the second floor platform, then building the second story walls, and ultimately adding the roof framing.

In a small but growing number of homes, wall panels are stick-built of wood but assembled in a manufacturing plant and then trucked to the building site and assembled there. Proponents of this system, referred to as panelization, point out that entire wall systems can be constructed in a factory setting, away from weather and rain. Whether walls are stick-built on site or constructed in a factory, the overall wood-framed structure of the home is similar.

Once the structure of the home has been framed, the so-called mechanicals – including pipes, wires, and ducts – are routed through walls and floors. Insulation is then packed between the framing members of exterior walls. Following an inspection, inside walls are typically covered with drywall. The exterior of the home is covered with a weather-resistant cladding such as stucco, siding, or brick veneer.

The American home building industry has used this system for decades. As a result, new home construction has become standardized around this time-tested method of stick-built framing.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Research Center, stick-built homes account for more than 90% of all new homes built in the nation each year. Everyone involved in residential construction – builders, carpenters, other trade contractors (also referred to as sub-contractors) and architects – thoroughly understands this building model. In addition, an extensive building material supply chain has developed across the country to support this method of new home construction.

Despite its near ubiquity, stick framing can have some drawbacks. If framing lumber is too moist, it can shrink and warp as it dries and that can cause drywall cracks. And the multitude of spaces between framing members can be difficult to insulate and air seal correctly using standard fiberglass batts. There are solutions to these issues – such as using properly dry lumber and one or more insulating systems that are installed with care – to ensure a quality home.

Although this site-built stick frame method of constructing new homes using wood and lumber clearly dominates, there are other ways to build the structure of a home. These methods can also provide additional energy efficiency or better resistance to storms. The alternatives include steel, modular, structural panels, and concrete. Here’s how each compares to the traditional wood-framing method of construction outlined above:

Light-Gauge Steel

Think of a stick-built home, but with the sticks made of metal. The advantage, of course, is that steel won't burn, shrink, rot, or provide food for termites. When properly engineered, steel can be stronger than a wood frame. And because it doesn't shrink or warp, there is little worry about drywall cracks.

Light-gauge steel is used in commercial buildings for interior partitions so there's a well-established supply chain. The lower market share for steel-framing is mostly due to price and familiarity. A steel home costs more to build – around 3% more according to most estimates – and few residential builders have the tools or skills needed to work with it. (Note: All costs in this article are very rough averages. Building materials fluctuate in cost from month to month, and also vary from region to region.)

Steel studs also pose different challenges for plumbers and electricians, and because steel conducts heat, the insulator has to take steps to isolate the frame from the sheathing – usually by wrapping the home with rigid foam insulation.

Modular Homes

A modular home uses conventional stick framing and must satisfy the same building codes as a site-built home, and holds its value about as well. (Don't confuse it with a mobile home, which is a depreciating asset built on a steel chassis that falls under the Federal HUD building code.) Modules are built in a factory and finished on the inside. They're trucked to the site and set in place with a crane. The local builder knits them together and adds finishing touches, like decks.

Although you've probably seen a modular home – usually two halves of a simple box – rolling down the highway, they’re not the whole story. Modulars come in all quality levels and price points, and some manufacturers combine custom-built modules in different ways to create complex designs, that include cathedral ceilings and other popular architectural features.

In principle, the factory environment offers better control over everything from the framing to the insulation, but in reality the product varies. The quality offered by some modular builders can equal site-built homes and some firms have designed "green" homes. Other modular builders have been known to cut corners – for example, with thin interior walls that offer little privacy from noise. Ask lots of questions, get references, and scrutinize the product specs as carefully as you would with any home. Expect higher quality to carry a higher price tag.

Structural Insulated Panels

A Structural Insulated Panel, or SIP, is a sandwich of rigid foam insulation between oriented strand board (OSB) that results in a structural panel. SIPs come with pre-cut window and door openings as well as conduit for electrical wiring. They're used for walls and ceilings, and can be combined to create nearly any home design. Specially trained crews assemble them on the jobsite. They’re often used to cover a traditional timber frame, or post-and-beam structure, but they can also be self-supporting.

A SIP home tends to be well insulated and draft free, so it needs less energy to heat and cool than a typical stick frame. As such, you may need a smaller heating and cooling system.

While the materials for the building shell will cost more than a wood frame, builders who offer this system claim that overall cost roughly equals stick framing, and may even be lower. That's because it takes less labor to assemble the panels, and the insulation is already in place.


Concrete is probably the world’s most-used building material, but aside from foundations you will only see it in a minority of U.S. single-family homes. In homes that do use it, walls are built from either concrete masonry units (CMUs) or insulated concrete forms (ICFs). Wood framing is used for floors, ceilings, interior walls, and roofs.

Concrete Masonry Units: CMUs, are hollow concrete blocks stacked on site and covered on the inside or outside with foam insulation board. Because the blocks’ thermal mass slows the transfer of heat, the inside of the home stays cooler on hot days. Not surprisingly, they're most popular in the South and especially Florida, where CMU homes are priced competitively with wood framing.

Autoclave Aerated Concrete (AAC) block: A variation on the concrete masonry units above, AAC is a mix of Portland cement, aluminum, fly ash (a waste product from coal power plants), and other additives. Chemical reactions between the materials form microscopic air bubbles that act as insulation. Costs will be somewhat more than standard CMUs.

Insulated Concrete Forms: ICFs are rigid foam forms or Lego-like blocks that are assembled on site and then filled with steel reinforcing rods and concrete. The forms stay in place to serve as the home's insulation. ICF walls offer thermal mass and provide insulation values of up to R-25 – higher than most wood-framed walls. That makes them a good fit for any climate.

About 30 ICF manufacturers serve the U.S. market, according to the Portland Cement Association. Costs are at least 2% to 5% more than a wood framed home of similar design, but the actual price depends on the local market and could be much higher.

What sets an ICF home apart is its sheer mass. Concrete stands up well to high winds, so ICF manufacturers and builders position the system as a good choice in hurricane-prone areas. (But remember that, in most cases, hurricane damage starts with roof uplift, and the home still has a wood framed roof.) The heavy walls also deaden street noise so, when fitted with quality windows and doors, the home should be quieter than a wood frame. And concrete also doesn’t get eaten by bugs.

Together, the methods of construction outlined above account for nearly all new homes built in the U.S. each year. According to a 2010 survey by The National Association of Home Builders Research Center, here’s the relative market share for each method of construction:

Market Share of Building Systems, Single-Family Homes

Site-Built Stick Frame: 82.4%

Panelized Stick Frame: 8.3%

Concrete Masonry Units: 5.5%

Modular: 1.1%

Structural Insulated Panels: Less than 1%

Insulated Concrete Forms: Less than 1%

Timber Frame: Less than 1%

Source: NAHB Research Center, 2010 Annual Builder Practices Survey

Most large production builders use the proven stick-framing method of construction. Smaller builders and custom builders are more likely to offer the other types of building methods above.

As a next step, discuss a method above that interests you with your builder. If you decide to use a method other than traditional stick-building, make sure that your builder and his trade contractors have strong experience in the type of construction you chose. If you’re working with an architect, and want to build using a method other than stick-framing, make sure your architect is also experienced in the type of construction that you elect.

What’s the common element of each of the construction methods above? In the hands of an experienced builder, architect and team of trade contractors, each will provide you with a high quality, energy-efficient and durable new home that’s ready for many years of enjoyment. Article provided by