Top 10 Tips for Building a House

May 24, 2016
Building a house? It’s a big project! Here’s a great list of top tips, written by someone who’d just been through the process of building their first home – we think they make a lot of sense and it’s great to get perspective from someone who’s ‘been there, done that’. 

1. Cancel everything else in your spare time

Give up sport, forget fitness, cut down on eating, send those kids to boarding school in Invercargill. Don’t plan holidays or laze around on precious weekends. Whatever you do don’t embark on a weekly blog. If there is one thing I would have done differently it is to get more involved – from the planning and dreaming stages to choosing the finishes to spending time on site. I envy people who can quit their jobs and live and breathe the build.

2. Employ an architect

Easy for me to say! We’ll be eternally grateful for Gemma’s dad who designed our house and supervised the contract during the build for nothing but gratitude and a grandson. (For those commenters who’ve asked an architect will normally charge by percentage of budget. For a full-service architect who designs and draws the house, sees you through the tender and consent processes then oversees the contract during the build, it could be up to 10 – 14% which makes Zeno worth about $100,000).
3. Go to the Home and Building Shows and learn about what you want

There’s a certain ‘normal’ way a house is built in New Zealand. A certain level of insulation, amount of soundproofing, certain sorts of joinery, framing, finishes etc. That’s what you’ll get unless you ask for something different. To go beyond the usual you have to know what you want.
4. Nail down as much as you can before the start

Anything that changes during the build will cost extra. If you can decide on every single detail of the house from overall design to colours, taps, carpets and blinds before you begin then you can (use a good quantity surveryor to) get a clear idea of the cost before you begin and stick to it. This is one of the things we could have done better.

5. Sign a fixed-price contract with a builder who has been recommended to you.

We chose three highly-recommended builders, met them, looked at their previous houses and met previous clients. We got them all to tender for the build. We loved them all and chose the cheapest quote. Fixed price takes the worry out of everything.

6. Don’t try to project manage your own build

Have you never seen Grand Designs? These guys are professionals, they’ve got the contacts. The contractors they work with will be getting the contract for your project manager’s next house so they turn up, and do good work. Without the contacts and the promise of ongoing work, how are you going to manage the 20 or so trades on your build – let alone schedule them just right to get the most efficient build?

7. Make a careful budget that includes EVERYTHING

Then use a detailed spreadsheet to keep track of the costs as you go. Enter actual costs as you go and keep the thing updated as you spend. Our spreadsheet is a giant mess, but it was better than nothing.

8. Don’t compromise on that one thing

Compromise on all those other little things, but not on that one thing. You’ll regret it: that is such a cool thing.Compromise on all those other little things, but not on that one thing. You’ll regret it: that is such a cool thing.Compromise on all those other little things, but not on that one thing. You’ll regret it: that is such a cool thing.Compromise on all those other little things, but not on that one thing. You’ll regret it: that is such a cool thing.

Compromise on all those other little things, but not on that one thing. You’ll regret it: that is such a cool thing.Compromise on all those other little things, but not on that one thing. You’ll regret it: that is such a cool thing.Compromise on all those other little things, but not on that one thing. You’ll regret it: that is such a cool thing.Compromise on all those other little things, but not on that one thing. You’ll regret it: that is such a cool thing.

9. Don’t underestimate the sun

This is advice I’d give anyone in any endeavour, but especially in house building. This starts with

This is advice I’d give anyone in any endeavour, but especially in house building. This starts with orientation of the house to make sure your outdoor areas are north facing, but it goes much beyond this. The sun can bake a house with too much west-facing glass. Carefully plan your eaves, glass type, blinds and curtains, window sizes, landscaping etc to welcome and exclude the sun strategically. You can get apps that let you stand on site and hold your phone up to show you the sun’s path at certain times of the year.

10. Visit the site as often as you can

You will spot things that need to be changed. These could be things that weren’t clear on the plans, that the builder is interpreting one way, but you would like a different way. They could be things that didn’t become clear until you saw them built: “We should have put a window there,” “That beam is too low”. Don’t be afraid to make a bold call for change in these cases. Or they might simply be mistakes the builder has made “the house is in the wrong street”. If you don’t visit, things could end up wrong.

2 Comments

  1. Mandila Jackson

    Wow, lovely website. Thnx.

  2. I really like your tip “don’t try to project manage your own build.” That is something that we will really have to keep in mind when we start building our first home! We are really excited to get the project started and see it come together. We are going to be doing a lot of custom work so hopefully, it all works out. Thanks for the info!

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