New Home 101: Building Your New Home, Part 1

Information about chapter four regarding buying a new home. There is a close-up image of a form in the background.

As a new homebuyer, you probably don't know too much about the building process. Here we'll give you the 411 from the ground up!

This article is the first part of a three-part series discussing the new-home building process. For part two, click here. For part three, click here.

Now that you’ve chosen the design options for your new home, it’s time for the professionals to take over and begin making your dream a reality. Whether you work with a production builder or a custom builder, the transformation of the dirt on your lot and the blueprint of your floor plan into a foundation, walls, plumbing and electrical systems, and all of the finishing touches takes a team of professionals.

If you’re building a custom home, you’ve probably already been working with an architect and a builder to develop your individualized plan for your home. If you’ve bought land within a development of custom homes, you may already have met the developer, too, and if you purchased a private lot, you may have been interacting with an engineer to study what it will take to provide utilities, a septic system, and a driveway to your land before the home can be built. 

Buyers of production homes typically interact mostly with the new home community’s sales staff and design center staff and may not even meet everyone who works on their home. Eventually, you’re likely to connect with the site supervisor or construction superintendent who is responsible for the building of your home, but in the meantime you may want to know who else has a role to play in creating your residence.

A “Who’s Who” of the Construction Site

Developer. Whether your home is in a large master-planned community with hundreds of homes or a smaller development with a handful of homes, the evolution of the neighborhood from raw land to a residential area started with a developer. The same is true if the community was previously a commercial site or had other homes that were purchased and demolished to make room for new homes. Developers sometimes spend years searching for land, working to comply with zoning issues and preparing the land for development.

Depending on the size of the community, the developer will create plans for amenities. Every community needs to have a land plan for infrastructure such as utilities and sewer and water lines, followed by a plan for roads, sidewalks, street signs, and fire hydrants. The developer also has to decide the type of homes to be built and the size of each lot before getting zoning approval and possibly approval from the local school district if the community will add a significant school-age population to the area.

Architect. Unless you’re building a completely custom home, you’re not likely to meet the architect of your home. That doesn’t mean, though, that an architect wasn’t involved with the design of your home. For example, at Schumacher Homes, buyers will find hundreds of floor plans from a variety of talented architects. Ryland Homes, one of the largest builders in the country, works with local architects in different markets to develop designs that match local tastes.

Builder. The size of your builder’s staff depends on the size of the building company. Many smaller or regional builders are family-owned businesses with several generations involved, such as Jim Chapman Communities in Atlanta or McCaffrey Homes in California. Larger builders may have both national and regional offices in addition to their local developments and design centers. If you work with a smaller builder, you may have direct contact with the company’s owner, but regardless, you will get to meet several members of the builder’s team. 

Sales consultant or associate. A builder’s sales professionals are educated not only in the specifics of the development where they’re working, but also about the process of building a new home. Some may also be licensed Realtors. 

Design center consultant. While some design center consultants may be licensed interior designers, all are trained to help buyers make multiple decisions on how their finished home will function and look. 

Construction manager. The person in this position could have one of several titles such as site supervisor, site superintendent, project manager or even just “builder.” This person won’t necessarily do hands-on construction of your home but will be responsible for overseeing the entire project from permitting to inspections and construction. You’ll need to rely on the construction manager to show you the house while it’s being built and to answer any questions or concerns you have; however, you can also address questions to your sales consultants at any time, too.

Contractors. Your builder will either hire outside contractors or rely on staff contractors to build your home from the foundation (and basement if you have one) through the framing, plumbing and electrical work, drywall installation, interior work, cabinet and counter installation, and beyond. You won’t necessarily meet any of these contractors, but if you’ve carefully chosen a reliable builder, you can also feel confident that your builder has hired the best available contractors.

Inspectors. Your home will be inspected multiple times while it’s under construction by your builder’s inspectors and county or city inspectors. You can discuss with your construction manager, or site superintendent, whether you can or should attend any of these inspections.

Step-by-Step: How Your Home Gets Built

Regardless of your home’s size and complexity, the basic process of building a home is the same. Here we outline the primary steps that your home’s construction will take.

Permits. Before a builder can put a shovel in the ground, the city or county government must approve the design and provide permits for everything from the zoning and grading (changing the contour of the land to accommodate your home and driveway) to the septic systems, home construction, electrical work, and plumbing. Some builders are able to speed the permit process by limiting exterior structural changes to their home designs, but the time it takes to get permits depends on the speed of the government entity that provides them. Ideally, says Angel Boales, a sales associate with Meritage Homes in Roanoke, Texas, the builder is ordering materials and lining up contractors while waiting on the permits.

Site preparation. Before anything can be built, a site needs to be cleared for construction by having trees, rocks, and debris removed and the ground leveled where your home will be built. Some or all of this preparation may already have been done if you’re buying a home in a masterplanned community. 

Foundation poured. The method for pouring your foundation may vary depending on whether your plans call for a basement; either way, footings are dug and concrete is poured into the holes and trenches of your foundation walls. There will be a “curing” period for this concrete when no work will be done on your home, followed by the application of a waterproof membrane and the installation of drains, pipes, and plumbing for your basement or first floor. 

Framing. The “shell” or “skeleton” of your home goes up next, including subflooring, the walls, and the roof. Plywood or “oriented strand board,” which is engineered wood particle board, is used for the exterior walls and roof, and your windows and exterior doors will be installed at this time as well. Next, a house wrap will be installed to prevent water from infiltrating your home while allowing water vapor to escape.

Siding and roofing installed. After the framing is complete, your roof and siding choice can be installed. Different exterior materials are popular in various areas, but in this initial construction phase the underpinnings of your eventual façade are installed. Popular roof materials include slate, tile, metal and shingles.

Plumbing, electrical, and HVAC installed. At the same time, other contractors will begin installing ductwork for your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, and the plumbers and electricians will start putting pipes and wires into your interior walls. Big plumbing items such as your tub and shower will be placed in your bathrooms before the interior walls are completed to make them easier to move. After the roof is complete, the electrician will start putting in receptacles and outlets and running wires to the breaker panel. 

Insulation installed. The insulation your builder uses depends on the climate where you live, but homes typically have insulation installed in all exterior walls, the attic, and floors that are located above a basement or a crawl space. Insulation is given an “R-value” to indicate how well it protects the inside of your home from heat and cold. Your builder is likely to use blanket insulation as well as loose-fill and blown-in insulation to provide a high level of comfort and energy efficiency in your new home.

Install drywall and exterior finishes. After the electricians and plumbers have done their work inside your walls, drywall can be installed, taped, and covered with a primer coat of paint. Brick, stone, stucco, or siding (vinyl, metal or cement) will be installed on the exterior of your home at this point.

Interior trim and exterior walkways completed. The next step is to install trim throughout your home, including baseboards, moldings, window sills, doors, door casings, and stair railings. Your cabinets, vanities, fireplace mantel, and any decorative trim will be installed at this time, and your walls will be painted or wallpapered per your request. Outside, your driveway will be formed — unless the builder chose to do this at an earlier point — along with your walkways and patio. 

Floors, countertops, and exterior work nearly complete. Your hardwood or tile flooring goes in next, along with your bathroom and kitchen counters and other tile work. If you’re having vinyl flooring or carpet installed, that will be done later. Outside, your yard will be prepared for proper drainage and future landscaping.

Mechanical work completed; fixtures installed. Your light fixtures, outlets, switch plates, and HVAC are installed, along with your sinks, faucets, and toilets.

Final touches. The last step is installing carpeting, vinyl flooring, mirrors, and shower doors, followed by a thorough clean-up of any construction debris. Your exterior landscape, including any grass or trees, will be prepped and planted.

For more expert advice on buying and building a home, check out the free eBook download of New Home 101: Your guide to Buying and Building a New Home at NewHomeSource.com.

Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades. You can find her on Google+.

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