Monday, November 11, 2013

Building a House - Structural Upgrades

Confession: I have a fear that blogging about this house building process will jinx it and that something will go wrong. I have this major paranoia that all this work and money will go into it and in the end the bank will say "here's a crazy rule, we can't close your loan." Have a mentioned our credit, income, and savings are fine and that this worrying is irrational? Okay. Well, disclaimer out of the way, here's a little house related blog post.

Currently our house looks like this:


Ha ha. They are digging the hole end of next week.

But don't let that think nothing is happening! The builder has been hard at work with permits. And Joe and I have been hard at work studying upgrades and debating debating debating.

You guys this upgrade business is stressful.

If we were building a custom home it'd be a different kind of stressful. In that case you bid out the cost of materials and labor and you have your general contracting fees (however that's arranged I'm not sure). But in the case of a builder in a neighborhood your choices are constrained. You go to a design center and choose from their choices and decide whether the upgrade is worth the fee.

Spoiler alert: most of the time it is not.

At least for us. We are DIY-ers at heart. So building does mean getting a lot of things we want. But it also means that $7,000 for hardwood floors sounds CRAZY when I know the cost of materials is about $4,000 and we can knock it out in a weekend of crazy labor on our own part.

So all this research determines what we do now and what we save up and do with cash and our own sweat equity later. This even comes down to gutting the kitchen and doing it ourselves later - I know, I know, but the cabinet upgrades to get tall cabinets in white was out of this world crazy expensive.

As a result, we are doing mostly structural upgrades and saving the cosmetic stuff for later. With a few exceptions. I'll talk about cosmetic upgrades another day, but I thought maybe it'd be helpful to tell you what we're doing structurally.
(Evie playing at the new park 2 blocks from our new house)

Worth it:
The following upgrades were worth it for us.

  • 9ft ceilings in the basement - $3,000: They change the entire feeling of the basement and it was one of Joe's only firm sticking points.
  • Digging out the crawl space - $4,000: The floor plan had about 2/3 of the basement dug out, and then 1/3 was crawl space. You can use that for storage. But for $4,000 they'll dig it out and rough in plumbing so we can put another bedroom and bath there down the line. Worth it.
  • Adding a covered side porch - $3,380. This adds a huge wide covered porch off the dining room. Our house is situated with this side facing the street, so we plan on putting some fun patio furniture and/or a swing and a fan out there and spending many summer nights relaxing and watching Evie ride her bike/scooter up and down the street.
  • French doors & stairs - $1500: We wanted access to the back yard from our kitchen and it wasn't in the base plan. We added 8ft french doors and 8ft wide steps into the back yard. The indoor-outdoor connection is a game change for us in how we'll use our yard and it brings in lots of light.
  • Bigger better lot - $3,000: We're building in a development that is very community oriented. The yards are not huge and for some of the less expensive houses there is almost no yard at all. There are a million parks (see picture below of Evie playing at one 2 blocks from our house), but we HAD to have private entertaining space in a fenceable yard. This lot is bigger/better than most. So that was worth it.
  • Bigger window in the master bath - I'm not sure on the final price, but something like $100. I like lots of natural light in the bathroom, makes doing make up easier.
  • Window in the kids bath. The kids bath is situated in a strange spot relative to the roofline, so I can see why they didn't include a window as-is on this plan. But I was determined to get natural light. Taking pictures of Evie in the tub as a baby/toddler has been a nightmare with my SLR and no natural light. Also I think rooms with no natural light feel cavelike and depressing. No way. $200 well spent to get a small window above the shower. 
  • Rough-in plumbing in laundry - $750. The builder obviously includes washer and dryer hookups. They are typically side by side in this closet with doors upstairs in hour house. I asked them to stack the hookups (which they did free of charge) but I also wanted plumbing roughed in on the other side so we can add a sink. I really want a sink for doing delicates /soaking out stains/washing muddy kids shoes. We'll add a cabinet/sink/faucet on our own later after we save cash. But the plumbing rough in will save me calling a plumber and ripping out drywall.
Not worth it:
Obviously some people would choose these, but we didn't.
  • Cold storage - $3,000: I'm not a huge canner. I'll have some food storage, but we can keep that in other storage spaces in the basement, adding dedicated cold storage was just not needed for us. And as far as general storage goes, I'm a believer in keeping some seasonal decorations, and a small number of sentimental things, but if I'm not using it I want to just get rid of it, not store it.
  • Vaulted ceiling - there was a small vaulted ceiling option in the dining room. The ceilings are already 9ft and it just didn't seem worth it or necessary.
Things we wanted and can't have
  • An additional window in the basement. I'm nuts about natural light. Our basement has one window. But the other place we could/would add a window is too close to the property line so it isn't allow. Sad! But windowless great rooms make for good TV rooms. :) And the window is in the bedroom where it is needed so that's an okay compromise.
  • Skylights. I would have wanted one in the kids bath, maybe one in the master bath. And one in the upstairs landing (which has no windows because it is surrounded by doors to bedrooms/laundry room/bath. But the builder said they are a major pain warranty wise (probably leaking) and they absolutely refused. I may still add one down the line if I get brave...
Anyway, I hope this is helpful to others if you ever build. I'm a major overanalyzer so I think through things a million times, make notes in my building notebook (which maybe I'll post about soon, it has been the best way to organize all this craziness) and debate things. Trying to avoid as many of the "I wish we would have..." scenarios as possible. We'll find out after we move in how well I did. :) Would you make these same choices? Different ones? Does the thought of building overwhelm you or seem exciting?

As we left our lot the other day from a visit we saw this amazing sunset. I could not stop taking pictures. It was amazing. 


1 little remarks:

Brooke said...

And this is why we're friends! I love hearing all your detailed thoughts on all of these things, and why you chose or didn't choose certain options and that you want to share them with others so it could help them later. And it makes me happy that it seems like you're getting the house of your dreams! It sounds amazing, and I can't WAIT to see the finished product.

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