We know there is a lot to think about, but the more you know in the early planning stages the better. Making decisions in advance will go a long way toward getting a more accurate quote and it will help minimize surprises, delays, problems and unexpected costs. The more confidence you have in your decisions, the better off you'll be. Should some of these points raise questions, remember we're here to help. Please feel free to contact us.
What are your priorities for the project? Aesthetics, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Cost? Think about what's really important to you and let us know. We can make suggestions or recommendations to ensure your priorities are addressed.
For new construction and additions, the exterior wall construction method will have a significant impact on the finished product. Foundations can be poured concrete, block, ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) or even PWF (Permanent Wood Foundations). Main floor walls can also be ICF or wood-frame construction, or newer technologies such as SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels). The choice you make here will have a significant impact on insulating value, sound transmission, strength, resale value and of course, cost. For more information on these and other building systems, visit our Resources page.
Also referred to as HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) a few of your choices are forced-air, radiant heat (electric, hydronic), geothermal, gas, oil, wood, pellets... Do you have a preference? There are many options to choose from in terms of heat source/method, cooling, air quality and fuel type. You might also wish to supplement your heat or electricity needs with solar collectors; "PhotoVoltaic" for electricity or "Evacuated Solar Tubes" for hot water. For more information, visit our Resources page. All new homes should have a heat-recovery ventilator - fresh air is vitally important in today's more air-tight homes.
What types of lighting do you prefer? We recommend CFL (Compact Fluorescent) or LED (Light-emitting diode) compatible fixtures where possible. Recessed pot/can lights, flush-mount, wall-sconce or hanging are all popular choices. Do you have special needs such as a requirement for generator backup power or high-voltage/current outlets in a workshop or garage for power tools? Identifying any unique electrical requirements up front will help avoid surprises later on.
The hot/cold water supply runs and DWV (Drain-Waste-Vent) will be installed according to local building codes and will most likely be a combination of copper, PEX and ABS. Your input is required for the fixtures. What type/style of sinks in bath, kitchen and laundry rooms? What type of bathtubs, shower-enclosures, faucets? If you're not sure, bath/kitchen/plumbing stores and home-decor magazines are a great place to start.
Windows and Doors
Good quality windows and doors are money well-spent. In terms of insulating value windows are the weak-spot in your shield from the heat and cold. Casement windows have the tightest seal, and triple-glazing makes a substantial difference in performance for little extra cost. The most common material is PVC, however wood, fibreglass and aluminum are also popular. Exterior doors are typically steel or fibreglass with an insulated core.
There is a seemingly endless (and constantly expanding) number of options here. Although brick and/or siding are the most popular, recent years have seen synthetic stucco and fibre-cement based products gaining momentum. Brick (or simulated stone) exteriors are available in dozens of colours, shapes and sizes. Siding is available in vinyl, wood, engineered-wood, fibre-cement and aluminum; Horizontal or vertical applications. Modern fibre-cement sidings are available in multiple traditional profiles as well as cedar-shake, brick-veneer, sandstone and more. It basically comes down to what look you want to achieve, and which materials/colours meet your vision and requirements.
Most roof structures are designed using engineered truss systems. The house dimensions, roof pitch (slope) and roof lines (gable-ends, dormers, etc) are all the manufacturer needs to design a custom set of trusses for your home or addition. We strongly recommend the use of true veneer-core plywood over OSB (oriented-strand-board or chip-board/aspenite) because it is far more resilient when exposed to moisture and temperature extremes. 3-tab asphalt shingles are the most economical, but won't last as long as an architectural fibreglass-infused shingle. Metal roofs are another option - they last a very long time and are a much better choice environmentally.
House Placement/Position on Lot
If you're building a new home this requires a great deal of thought. You have to balance your desire for curb appeal against the potential for solar gains in winter from South-facing windows. Ideally this is something you could be thinking about before you select a lot because you may wish to have (for example) the kitchen/livingroom areas at the back of the house, and be South facing to take advantage of the natural light and solar gains. Larger windows are typically installed in those rooms. If you already have a lot, you may want to consider choosing a house plan that will offer the best combination of your desired floor-plan coupled with the energy-saving attributes of South-facing windows. Zoning bylaws will also play a role here, depending on the size of the lot and the house footprint.
Kitchen Cabinets and Counter-Tops
The kitchen is the heart of your home. A place of gathering, conversation, and of course - food. With so many options in terms of styles, colours and features you can truly express yourself. Before you get caught up in colours and finishing details, remember this has to be a highly functional space. Whether building a new home or renovating, you need to consider kitchen design early because the layout is required at the rough-in stage. Both the electrician, and plumber will work off your kitchen design to ensure services are where you need them. Also, it can take many weeks for the cabinets to be built/delivered. Some food for thought:
- Plan for cabinet space you truly need - too little space is aggrivating, but too much will consume valuable space that could be used for other features.
- Where do you eat? If you have a separate dining room, you may decide to incorporate a small nook, island, bar or peninsula in place of a full-sized table and chairs set. How many people in your family? How often do you entertain?
- Cooking/baking habits? Pay carefull attention to the amount of counter space and where it is located. A couple larger surfaces may be more useful than a number of smaller dis-jointed surfaces.
- PICK YOUR APPLIANCES. Ovens, ranges and refridgerators come in so many different sizes. Knowing what appliances you have or want is essential to space and cabinet sizing/design. Where do you want the microwave? Does the fridge require a water connection for ice/water dispensers? Electric or gas for the range/oven/cooktop?
- BE SURE about the location of your sink and appliances. Having to move electrical, gas, plumbing or HRV rough-ins will cost you time and money.
- Select a sink. The size and type of sink will dictate the width, height and type of sink-base cabinet. For example, farmhouse sinks require a custom-made cabinet to accommodate the front skirt and load-bearing properties. There's also drop-in, undermount (popular with Granite) and more.
- A quick note on HEALTH: Kitchen cabinets are a known source of VOCs from off-gassing. If this concerns you, consider veneer-core plywood as a substrate as opposed to chip-board, it has far less glue content. Ask about finishes - water-borne paints, stains and laquers are just as durable as thinner-based finishes these days, and are much better for your indoor air quality.
Start with the basics - decide which rooms/areas will have hardwood, tile, carpet, vinyl, etc. Then, you can think about the following options:
- Hardwood - Solid hardwood floors continue to be a warm, beautiful and popular choice for homeowners. Wood is also a renewable resource. Many Canadian and European suppliers manage certified sustainable forests. Hardood may be solid or have a veneer-core base to keep it dimensionally stable through changing humidity levels in your home. Other eco-friendly options include bamboo, cork and reclaimed wood.
- Laminate floors - Laminates are available in a multitude of woodgrain patterns. They are normally not suitable for damp locations and high traffic areas due to he MDF core used in most of these products. More expensive laminates will have a thicker protective coating on the top surface and might also contain a greater variety of woodgrain prints, resulting in a more realistic look (less noticeable repetition in the woodgrain).
- Tile - Kitchens, bathrooms and mud/laundry rooms are all great places for tile. Beyond the floors, consider showers, tub-surrounds, backsplashes or baseboards. Porcelain tiles are great for interior and exterior uses but are harder to install (much tougher to cut and they require special modified adhesives). Stone tiles are also more challenging to install, and should be sealed for protection. Ceramic tiles are the most common and cost-effective. Carefully inspect any cheaper tiles ($1-2 per square foot) as they might have minor defects such as warping or not being perfectly square. This will result in uneven grout lines and could be very noticeable.
- Carpet - Depending on what you read, carpets are either home to 200 toxic chemicals or they can be "beneficial" to the the indoor air quality of your home. You may want to research this topic yourself and make an informed decision. The primary concern is long-term offgassing from the synthetic fibres and adhesives. You might also wish to look into natural fibres before making a choice. Wool, Sisal, Jute and seagrass are examples of green carpets. If you choose to have carpets or rugs, let them air-out first (the longer the better!) and keep them very clean.
- Vinyl - This continues to be popular for it's cushion feel, diverse array of colours and prints, and lower cost. It is made from petrochemicals (plasticizers to be specific) which keep it soft and flexible. It is this characteristic that causes it to offgass and some adhesives used to glue it down commonly contain formaldehyde, a known VOC. Linoleum and Cork would be more eco-friendly options.
- Linoleum is a natural product making it healthier for inside your home. It is comfortable to stand on, non-toxic, eco-friendly and will last as long if not longer than vinyl. It does have a slight odour (not harmful) which may be bothersome.
- Cork should also be considered as a substitute for vinyl. It is all-natural, has similar cushion-like characteristics and is also available in many colours and patterns.
Your decisions here will fall into three main categories: First is the size and profile of the trim (the "style" for lack of a better term). Second is the material it is made of, and third is "where" you'd like to see trim in your home.
- Size / Profile: This is commonly chosen to compliment the theme and period of the home. Modern, Colonial, Victorian and Arts & Crafts are all common. Selecting a profile can be difficult due to the number of choices available. Start by visiting the Big-Box stores... if you don't see anything you like, then try manufacturers websites such as Mountain Moulding whene you can pick from pre-defined packages or select individual profiles from an extensive selection.
- Material: If the trim is going to be painted, the most economical choices are MDF or finger-jointed pine. The pine is a bit healthier (very little glue, so no formaldehyde) but costs more and is prone to defects and tear-out from the saw (typically not a problem with MDF). If you'd rather have a stained or clear-coated trim it can be produced in most domestic wood species, but is significantly more expensive to buy and finish than its painted equivalent.
- Window and door casings along with baseboard are always standard. Give some thought to extras such as chair-rails, wainscoting, crown-moulding and even trim that may be required for a fireplace surround or mantel. Other details such as built-in book-cases or shelves are often part of the trim work, Stairs and stair railings also require some thought.