We discussed the contracting portion of your home plans in Part One. Part Two will focus on issues concerning the foundation of your new home, the skeletal framing, and a few other items. I hope that it will turn on a few light bulbs and make you aware of noticing and learning a few tips. It was necessary for me to think ahead so that the contractor will not construct ahead without my consent. This may sound a little dictatorial; however, it will help to avoid any unintentional errors. I will point them out as I recollect the issues when I built my home.

I will assume you have some surveyed property ready for your new home. Your contractor will have to make sure the house is located and situated according to your local laws (i.e. the house may have to be set back from the road a certain distance). He will get the building permits and all the things needed to begin the project.

On your plot, your contractor uses an optical level to take measurements for the excavation before your foundation can begin. Make sure you identify the four (4) boundaries of your plot and make sure they are well marked. In our area, the corners are marked with a long spike. I took four (4) empty Progressive Soup® cans, with both ends cut out, and put them around each spike. I buried the can ¾ of the way down, dug out some dirt around the spike, and replaced it with quick drying cement. The boundary markers are now permanently recognizable. Just make sure your contractor does not bury them with dirt when they do the final landscaping.

Some of you will have a flat concrete slab with no basement. Others have blueprints that incorporate a basement. The type of foundation walls vary by contractor and by your plans. It may be a solid cement wall or concrete block. Concrete block comes in 10-inch and 12-inch sizes. You use less block with the 12-inch, but it may cost a little more per block. The use of heavier block may depend upon the architect’s safety calculations for weight support of the edifice. It is better to have more support than just enough support.

While the foundation is slowly rising out of your “pit”, there will be a trench dug for your electrical, telephone, and cable lines. However, there are a few of you, who will have electrical, telephone, and cable strung from a pole along side of a road. Your contractor will dig another trench for your plumbing and vent for your sewage. If you do not have a sewer system to attach to, you should be thinking about the cost of a septic tank and a drain field for your sewage. If you are not connecting to local water, you will need to drill a well and have a “perc” test done.

Percolation, commonly called a perc test, is a test to determine the absorption rate of soil for a septic drain field, also termed as a leach field. Results of a percolation test are required. It is done so your contractor can properly design a septic system. Perc testing is the observance of how fast a known volume of water dissipates into the subsoil of a drilled hole of a known surface area. I may be saying this in retrospect, but, if a sewage system is unavailable, you must discuss this possibility with your contractor as part of your early estimates.

A good contractor should develop a drainage system at the base and around the outside perimeter of your foundation. This will carry away any excess water and keep your foundation dry during any heavy storms.

When your foundation walls are up and the drainage system is in, now is the time for your contractor to insulate the outside foundation walls. There are a number of types of insulation, but usually they use blue, pink, or yellow, one (1) inch thick Styrofoam and adhere it to the outside walls. This insulation will help keep your basement warmer. Check with your contractor for the best way and what he recommends for your area. Don’t forget to discuss the height of the foundation walls. Ask your contractor about putting an extra course or two of block or raising the concrete wall. It will give you better headroom, especially if you ever decide to refinish it into a playroom or a recreation room. You should also consider having a radon test done. In some places, it is a requirement. It is better to check now and have the problem dealt with than finding out later when the cost will be substantially more. So think ahead. Radon is a definite health hazard.

If you want a fireplace, now is the time to have supports put under the area of the proposed fireplace before the contractor starts building the floor joists and laying down the plywood base for the floor. However many fireplaces the blueprint shows, will depend on the type and strength of the supports. I will discuss the fireplace in Part 3 of this series. At some point in this timeframe, your contractor will put in a concrete floor in the basement.

With the foundation complete, the framing of your house will begin. Try to follow your blueprint for the correct window height, room measurements, etc. Your plans may not have those measurements, but your contractor should know and should ask you about the height of the windowsill. You may want it raised or lowered. With the framing up, you might not be cognizant of the layout of the living spaces. Nevertheless, as time passes, you will walk through and everything becomes recognizable. Keep your contractor on his toes and question anything and everything that you think may be incorrect. This part of the building process is important. It is the difference between the “pay me now or pay me later” type of home. What I mean is if you spent a little more now, it will save costing you much more during the time you live there. As an example, your blueprint may not stipulate the thickness of the outside wall. A 2 x 4 inch outside wall will not be as energy efficient as a 2 x 6 inch outside wall. You can get more insulation between your outside wall and your drywall. Consider this…important.

Following the framing period, the outside walls begin to encompass the framing. The workers will attach the insulation on the outside wall as well. Once the walls are complete, your contractor may begin on framing the roof rafters. Your house is beginning to have some character. If your house design is really a custom one, your contractor will have to “stick build” the roof area. My house had only nine (9) common rafters. This means the contractor had to custom build the roof a section at a time, compared to some simpler house designs where he would buy pre-built sections.

I recommend that you put in a ridge-vent roof. The vented top of the roof peak design is much better than having the open vents at both gable ends. A gable is the triangular part of the wall where the roof slopes or peaks. It allows the house to breathe. I am incorporating suggestions and tips so it will make you aware about things that you may not have heard, seen, or even considered. Understanding the building chaos will put you in a learning fashion where you become an amateur contractor yourself. I always had this motto, “If you know just enough about anything and everything, no one can B.S. you”. You will have the last say always. This is the reason for you to make the commitment to research and inspect every aspect of the building process. At the same time, you will know how to deal with things after your contractor is long gone.

In Part 3 we will continue with the inside area of the construction. I hope to show you some energy savings as well. Keep studying your blueprints. It will help you question the whys and why nots.