Building a house is one of the most exciting and stressful experiences most of us have in a lifetime. By familiarizing yourself with the five major phases to the process, you can better anticipate what the experience will be like and what you need to look out for.
Before you begin
Make sure you have a lawyer look over your contract with the builder and assign dates to each stage with clear language about who will pay for added costs due to delays.
Your builder will no doubt include a "force majeure" clause that exempts them from responsibility for delays due to war, acts of God, etc. Often these terms seem nonnegotiable, but don't assume so. You have a right to know what happens in case of such delay, and who will pay for your inability to move into your home at a certain date and the resulting costs for things like hotels and furniture storage. For more about preparing for construction delays, visit ABGoodman Houseplanz.
Be sure to get your own inspector. There are several municipal inspections that will be triggered by certain phase completions, but you should have your own licensed inspector check all the work throughout construction. All Bay Inspection offers great advice about the entire inspection process.
Now let's see how a house gets built.
Stage 1 - Foundation
Before the foundation is poured, there is a lot of work to do. The site must be graded and excavated and the foundation laid out according to the plot map. Rough plumbing is installed and inspected and, finally, the foundation for the house, garage and porch is poured.
As with all aspects of construction, weather can play a part in foundation delays. Improper grading and drainage can undermine a foundation from the beginning. Be sure to have the foundation thoroughly checked by your own inspector.
Stage 2 - Framing
This is when your house starts looking like a house. During this phase, all of the home's interior and exterior walls and the stairs are framed. Now it's time to get keep the weather out, by installing the sheathing, roof, shingles, exterior doors and windows. The quicker this phase is completed, the fewer weather-related delays you'll experience while finishing the interior of the house.
Stage 3 - Plumbing, Mechanical, Electrical
The work that happens during this phase has to be done right, because once sheetrock is put over it, everything will be harder and more expensive to get to. Water, waste piping, water heater, HVAC system, ductwork and rough electrical wiring -- the guts of your new home -- are installed during this stage. All of these systems require inspection to assure you can safely move on to the next phase.
Stage 4 - Insulation and Drywall
First the walls are insulated and then the drywall or sheetrock is installed over them. By now, you and your builder should have discussed details about sheetrock thickness, how it will be fastened to the studs (nails or screws) and what type of texture or paint you have the budget to finish with.
Stage 5 - Exterior and Interior Finish
In this phase, all the final details are taken care of, including installation and testing of electrical, mechanical, HVAC and plumbing systems and the installation of ceilings, doors, baseboards, window sills, floor coverings, countertops, cabinets, tiles, appliances, mirrors, lights, faucets and showerheads. Everything gets a covering of paint or wallpaper and the driveway and sidewalks are poured. Final inspections, both municipal and with your inspector, are performed now and landscaping is done.
It is recommended that you do a walk-through inspection of your home with your builder 5-10 days before closing to allow time to fix any problems you find. Be sure to do a follow-up walk-through after repairs or fixes have been made to confirm that everything is as you want it. Once everything has cleared inspection, the home will be given a certificate of occupancy and you're ready to move in.
Keep the following tips in mind and you can make these five phases a lot easier to live through.
Get involved in your home building from the beginning and take an active interest on the pricing of materials and finishing touches. Make sure you understand what you are building and ask questions up front. It's imperative that builder and owner see eye to eye from the beginning; many aspects of your home, such as structure and foundation, will be unchangeable after a certain point.
Whether your relationship with your builder is jovial or strained, be sure to visit site as often as possible. Ask questions and pay attention during all phases of construction. If something looks wrong to you, it very well may be! Check the building codes yourself and consult with your own inspector if you feel your concerns about quality, safety or materials are not being adequately addressed by your builder. Always require proof of code compliance after each municipal inspection.
Be sure to keep good records and save all receipts, correspondence, phone conversation notes, samples and other paperwork involving your project.
Don't leave off-hand conversations with your builder to chance. Follow-up with phone calls to be sure you're on the same page about changes or concerns you have.
Some things during home construction are going to go wrong. Try to be as flexible, yet businesslike as possible and be able to compromise about solutions where it makes sense.
Are you ready? Now you've got these tips to arm yourself with -- get out there and build your dream house!