Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned: Construction Process

Following our first Lessons Learned, here are some items that are good to keep in mind during construction. 

  1. Balancing personalities is an art form, especially during the chaotic times when you realize a mistake has been made at 4 PM on a Friday.  Establish a courteous relationship with your GC and subs, be very clear about your expectations at the beginning and express your satisfaction as much as possible.
  2. Be more thorough about material pricing with the contractor (garage siding, concrete flatwork,etc.). If you are at all like us, you will never be satisfied with the most basic or lowest level materials, so be clear about that when you select your finish material.
  3. Listen to your sub-contractors, but don't let them make decisions on what they are going to install, just because they are familiar with it and/or have done it this way a thousand times. Be prepared to hold your ground and push them if necessary.
  4. In the rush to get a sub on-site at the correct time in the schedule, don't take whoever is available. Get the best person for the job and get referrals. It's best to look at their work on other jobs and contact their references.
  5. Don't feel guilty about making a sub tear out something if it's not right - if you've specified and documented your details -- and it's not built right, then be a stickler, it's your money.
  6. Never assume a sub can read your mind. Be very specific, if you are making an on-site decision. Mock things up, measure and mark if necessary. Never assume the subs are going to know where you want your heat registers, hooks, towel racks, lights.  Be available and around to help with all layouts that are important to you (lighting, fixtures, tile, etc). Sometimes it looks right on paper, but be prepared to make changes on site.

Lessons Learned: Design Decisions

OK, everyone seems to ask the same questions when walking through our house:

Is it how you imagined?  Were you on budget? Would you change anything?   

And we say YES to all of those.  Nothing is ever perfect -- live in it, evaluate it, and think about how to make it better for next time.

Here are some things to consider and others we will change when we do it again:

  1. Even if you can't afford radiant floors, do a short run for bathroom floors if possible.  Forced-air works for keeping the air warm, but tile floors without radiant heat are not comfortable to the bare feet during the winter.
  2. Install a drain in your laundry room. We always had plans to have one, but somehow it didn't stay on our plumbing priority list. It only took one laundry sink overflowing to recognize the importance of having one. Just a few gallons of water on the floor can cause a lot more damage than you might think.
  3. When detailing floors at indoor-outdoor areas, provide durable and weather resistant materials at operable openings.  I'm envisioning some sort of strip that catches dirt/dampness between the threshold and where the wood flooring starts.
  4. Beyond just thinking about shades, actually pick a brand that you can afford and detail the head/jamb returns to accommodate them.  (We talked about creating an actual recess, but the amount of gymnastics to achieve this was beyond our budget.)
  5. If you are planning on having pets (cats) plan for them and their litter boxes. We promised our kids that we'd get kittens when we moved to the new house. Don't ever make promises like that and if you do, be sure to figure out a way to accommodate their litter boxes. When you have an open floor plan it is difficult to confine odors unless you are diligent about cleaning.
  6. On tight urban lots, what is more important:  More square footage on the main level, or an attached garage?  We went back and forth on this and went with a detached garage so we could have a bigger main level (this is controlled by Denver Zoning requirements).  It's more of a lifestyle question, but one that has a big impact on the overall layout and access to spaces in the off-seasons.
  7. Evaluating products for green, quality and cost is VERY challenging. Decide early on what your priorities are and what your budget is. Figure out what you are not going to budge on (but allow room for flexibility :-).  If you are trying to build entirely green and use the most energy efficient systems and the greenest products you will be very challenged to do so unless you have the ability to pay for it. In most cases, we tried to select green products/systems but we had to make numerous compromises because of our budgetary constraints.  Ultimately, we decided on SIPS and great windows and compromised on items like radiant floors, and planned future installation on items like solar panels.