Designing and building your custom dream home should be a very rewarding journey, as you create a living space that’s tailored to your unique tastes, preferences and needs. The process will involve defining what your dream home looks like, hours of research, careful planning, coordination and choosing the design and build team that will bring it all together.
In this article, we will outline the essential steps to building your custom home, guiding you from the initial design phase through to completion.
Defining your vision, research and establishing a budget
You’ll begin by envisioning your ideal home. Key considerations are the number of bedrooms you’ll need, layout, architectural style, and any must-have features you can’t live without.
Research is a key stage of your project. It enables you to describe the design elements, features and finishes you want to suppliers, architects or design-builders, and possibly trade labourers. With a general understanding of the terminology, processes and vital information you’ll gather from building suppliers and builder websites and looking at land prices on real estate sites, you’ll begin to establish a realistic budget that encompasses the building lot, construction costs, permits, fees, and potential unexpected expenses.
How much would you like to spend on your new home? With that number in mind, is it a realistic one for your family and your financial goals? Will the neighbourhood support your chosen budget? Will your home fit in with the cost of the other homes on the block?
Many homeowners will contact their bank to establish how much financing they are likely to qualify for. With a solid understanding of the home you want to build and the area you plan to build it in, it’s time to look for the people who can bring your dream to life.
Assembling your design and build team
There are two primary approaches to designing and building your custom home:
- You hire an architect to translate your vision into a functional design, ensuring that your ideas are incorporated while adhering to the local building codes and regulations. Once the design has been refined, a builder experienced in custom home construction is engaged. Hopefully, the architect and builder work well together, and there are few surprise costs or delays.
- You hire a design-builder. Design-build contractors will take your home from your rough sketches to a functional design, help you select the property that will work for your design, secure all the permits, and then handle all of the aspects of project management and construction, hiring the sub-trades, scheduling municipal inspections and completing final touchups before occupancy. With the design-build approach, there’s one point of contact for the entire project. This results in a more streamlined communication path between design and execution.
When the designer and contractor are on the same team, you aren’t likely to encounter a very common problem, where the architect has specified options and materials that simply won’t work in the space. You will have a single team that’s focused on the end product, rather than the potentially chaotic give-and-take of throwing separate design and construction firms together with divergent goals.
Selecting and purchasing the lot or land
Once you know what you’re building, and your architect or designer has created the functional design, it’s time to find the lot that will accommodate your new home. The property you choose is going to affect the rest of the build, from its size to how it’s situated on the building site.
Not all of the space on lots you’re considering will be buildable. Municipal bylaws or community guidelines set forth by a homeowner’s association may determine the allowable size of the building, the placement of the home on the lot, and certain aesthetic requirements.
As of January 1, 2021, various cities and districts on BC’s West Coast adopted Step 4 of the BC Energy Step Code, for Part 9 residential buildings. When building a sustainable, energy-efficient home, whether you build to Step 4, or future-proof your home by building up to Step 5 (net zero ready), the location of your lot and the placement of your home on the property are important. Optimizing the solar orientation of your house will be a key factor in achieving net zero.
You will want to involve your architect or design-builder when choosing your lot, to make sure you can build your dream home on that property. Your builder can help you research setbacks, variances, and any environmental regulations that may impact the type of home you can build on the lot. And a surveyor can help identify any easements or peculiarities.
Obtaining permits and approvals
Before construction begins, it’s important to secure all necessary permits and approvals. Building Code enforcement, including issuing building permits, is generally carried out by your municipal building department. These may include zoning permits, building permits, electrical work and plumbing permits, environmental clearances, and other regulatory requirements.
As part of their project management services, a design-build contractor will typically manage all of the permits and inspections, but you’ll want to verify whose responsibility it is.
Developing and submitting detailed plans
Your architect or design-builder will create detailed construction plans. These plans will outline every aspect of the build, including materials, dimensions, electrical and plumbing, layouts and more.
Your project must comply with local building bylaws, to meet life safety, livability, accessibility, and sustainability requirements. The application checklist for your building permit will identify which drawings, forms, and documents your builder needs to submit with your application.
Selecting materials and finishes
You will probably work closely with your builder and interior designer to choose materials and finishes that align with your design and budget. Deciding on finishes can be the most exciting and creatively fulfilling phase, but it can also be quite time-consuming. There can be hundreds of finish selections that need to be made, and your design-builder can help streamline the process with a comprehensive selections guide that includes pricing targets.
If you also have an interior designer on the team, they can work with you, meeting with you regularly to present options and keep the project on track as you work through the selections guide your builder provided.
With approved plans in hand, construction can begin. Constructing your home involves site preparation, foundation construction, framing, roofing, plumbing, electrical work, insulation, drywall installation, and other essential tasks.
On every project, there will be some surprises. It’s important to set up at least a 10% contingency fund to cover those unexpected costs. It’s also essential to establish ground rules with your builder. What hours will the contractor be working, and what hours is it appropriate for you to visit your site?
You will want to inspect the construction site regularly to ensure that the work is progressing according to the plans and quality standards. It’s a good idea to schedule regular job site talks to clear up any issues and make sure you and the builder remain on the same page.
Interior and exterior finishes
As the construction progresses, interior and exterior finishes will be applied. On the interior these include painting, installing cabinetry, millwork, installing flooring, appliances and fixtures. On the exterior, there will be siding and cladding materials, trim, roofing and landscaping.
Final inspection and code compliance tests
Before completion, thorough inspections and tests will be conducted to ensure compliance with local building codes and the functionality of systems such as plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. A home energy professional may use a blower door as a diagnostic tool to determine how much air is entering or escaping from the building envelope.
The municipal inspector may issue a final deficiency list, with issues that need to be addressed before you obtain an occupancy permit from the Chief Building Official.
Touchups, cleaning and occupancy
It’s customary to complete a final walk-through with your builder to create a completion list of touchups that need to be taken care of. Sticky Notes are typically placed to flag paint touch-ups, dings and other minor repairs.
When everything has been checked off the list, your builder will perform a final cleanup to ensure that your home is spotless and ready for you to move in. It’s time to occupy your new custom home and begin making family memories.
After moving in, some ongoing maintenance will be required to preserve the beauty and functionality of your new home. It’s important to regularly inspect and address any repairs or maintenance needs. Some settling can occur on the site, so it’s a good idea to periodically walk around the outside of the house, looking for cracks in the concrete or driveway. Look for mortar cracks or loose bricks in the chimney. And check the facade and foundation for cracks or water pooling.
Schedule a spring cleanup. It’s time to turn the faucets back on after the winter. Check the gutters for leaves and debris that may have collected over the fall and winter months. Clogged gutters can lead to roof leaks and water infiltration, so it’s important to clean them twice a year. Inspect the paint for signs of peeling or chipping. Look for any obvious signs of storm damage to the roof, such as missing shingles or tiles.
Your HVAC systems should receive a biannual checkup and servicing by a qualified technician. Your technician should check the ductwork for any signs of damage, clean or replace filters, and service the furnace and air conditioning compressor.
How long will it take?
The design phase of your custom home is likely to take between 4-8 months, as the design plans are developed and finalized, finishes are chosen, and any additional project details and drawings are completed.
Depending on the size of your home and the scope of work, the construction phase can take between 12-15 months. The site is prepared, foundation and framing completed; interior systems like plumbing, electric and HVAC installed; insulation and drywall are applied. The finishes are then applied, such as flooring, cabinetry, trim, tile, plumbing fixtures, exterior cladding, roofing and paint.
After the fixtures and appliances have been installed, it’s time to complete the walk-through and create the completion list. Finishing touches are checked off, the builder will finish up any leftover items and then your home will receive its final cleanup, preparing for occupancy.