Building a new home is a big deal, especially when you make environmental impact a priority. There’s a lot to think about before you get started, like “Is building that moat around my house still a good idea?” or “Can I really afford that entirely glass staircase of my dreams?” or “What’s so trendy about Passive Houses anyway?” So before you start working away at that magical blueprint, heed some cautionary advice from the pros.
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1. Think Green
Things aren’t exactly looking peachy for icebergs around the planet. So it goes without saying that being carbon-footprint conscious is something everyone building a home should keep in mind. But do you go full-on-Thunberg and build a Net-Zero Home or a certified Passive House, which only produce as much energy as they consume, or just pop some solar panels on the roof? It all comes down to the individual.
Jon Vendargon from B Collective Homes says those with the desire to build a climate-conscious home should choose a builder and architect with sufficient expertise and experience in that area, so they're comfortable with the principles involved and aware of the cost implications.
“We’re in a climate crisis globally, and we really need to start looking at the carbon footprint of the house and what type of products are we using—finishing materials, the actual construction materials—that have the least carbon footprint as possible.”
Peter Nielsen, partner from Alair Homes, says home builders should be building a home that's cost-effective to run and that how green you go is a personal choice. “Technology is so advanced now. Some people drive an electric car, some people drive a eight-cylinder car. It’s something to think about.”
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2. Wait, but Why?
There can be a lot of different reasons to build a home. Maybe you’re building a “Granny Pod” (a tiny house with medical features to cater for the elderly) in your backyard, or perhaps you just won the lottery and this is just your Tuesday house. Whatever the reason, your impetus behind building deserves some thought as it will certainly impact which location you choose. Nielsen says, “My first question I want to ask is why are you building? Is this for your family, is it for your extended family, is it for resale?”
Although competing factors like price and availability are often prioritized over location, Nielsen always asks home-builders to think about place. This helps to avoid problems down the road, including everything from liking your neighbours to the schools in the area.
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3. Build for the Future
You’ve nailed down the location, you’ve decided on the design of your dreams, and you’re going full steam ahead with the moat. Nielsen says that even though clients might think they’re going to build something to live in forever he likes to have clients "build for the future." Even though this might be your dream home, and the plan is to live here for 25 years, "things change, people get promotions, they have to relocate," says Nielsen.
Dreams of that mirrored ceiling, not-so-private floor-to-ceiling bathroom window, or a spice or wok kitchen might be the customization of your dreams, but not so much for your future buyer once your house is back on the market. “Build this house so that it’s for you, but it’s also for resale,” says Nielsen.
Not only will this give home builders financial peace of mind for the future, but building a house for resale minimizes the chance that they buyer will end up tearing it down, leading to less waste long term.
4. Integrated Design Process
Alright, you’ve decided to reluctantly curb your moat fantasy into a small water feature for its resale value, and you’re ready to meet with an architect to plan out the rest of that amazing vision you have in your head. You haven’t picked out a builder yet because that's later on, right? Not so fast. Vendargon says one of the most pivotal parts of building a house is to involve builders from the get-go.
Vendargon explains that one of the main reasons for this is to manage financial expectations, and that having only an architect involved from the outset means that by the time the builders come into the plan, “there’s a price that’s laid out in front of them that is far in excess of where they want it to go.”
“When someone has a firm 1.5 million budget and we walk into a set of drawings and we put a price on it at 2 million, and now they’re really married to the design, it’s very very difficult to draw all of that out without completing disrupting what their vision is," says Vendargon. "We might be able to meet in the middle, but even then—it isn’t what they originally wanted or expected.”
“And the whole design team for that matter," continues Vendargon. "If you’re able to get a structural engineer, an envelope consultant, an interior designer, involved in the conversation collaboratively early, it will solve a lot of problems and streamline the process much better. An integrated design process is what’s going to give a homeowner and a project the most success.”
5. Down to the Doorknobs
Nielsen is also a strong advocate for getting everything organized up front. “I always like to tell my clients ‘let’s build your house on paper’. Sure it’s going to cost time, but it's not going to cost you any money.”
“We want to plan it up front, as thoroughly as possible, right down to the doorknobs. It gives you product certainty, price certainty, and a much more stress-free construction project, because we've already made all those tough decisions.”
That way, Nielsen says, materials can be purchased and necessary permits and approvals can be organized ahead of time. "We can be much more efficient on a site if we’ve made all of those decisions in advance. We don’t want to be asking those questions when we're under construction. It’s much cheaper to put a wire in the wall and have it ready for the future then go back and do it later on when it’s going to cost you five or ten times the amount."
6. Insulation is Sexy
During the planning process, Verdargon stresses that homeowners-to-be should be putting as much thought into comfort and what goes on behind-the-scenes as they do on aesthetics.
“We sort of say that insulation isn’t sexy, or the things behind the walls aren't the sexy pieces," says Verdargon, "but once the house is complete, it's how you live and how you feel with the health and comfort of your family— it’s very important to how that house is enjoyed.”
7. Builder BFF
Apart from transparency amongst the design team and planning all the details up front, both Vendargon and Nielsen can't stress enough how crucial having a good relationship and connection with your builder is. Nielsen says, “the biggest part for me is—is there a connection? Does your builder understand you? Do you understand your builder? Do you both see eye to eye? You’re going to be working together for a very long time. You don't want it to be an adversarial relationship."
Verdargon agrees. “You’re going to be working with someone for multiple years potentially, if you’re going through the entire process end to end. Making sure you’re comfortable in that space is the utmost importance.”
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8. So... Storage?
And last, but not least, storage. It might not be as exciting as that water feature or glass staircase, and most people would prefer to make use of their space with a bigger bathroom or kitchen, but according to Nielsen, home-builders should never underestimate the need for great storage. It’s definitely not something you can add on later, when you decided that putting one tiny cupboard in a basement was plenty of room for your family’s new skiing hobby.
“Everyone wants these big great rooms and whatnot, but you have to think about where your things are going to go—your camping gear, your Christmas tree, your whatever that may be. Yes, you want to have a nice kitchen, yes, you want to have nice bathrooms, ensuite, fireplace. But you have to think of the utility spaces and storage spaces. Especially when you get to design a home or be part of that design process.”