Most homeowners who’ve built their custom dream home will reflect fondly on the day they decided to take their dream book of ideas and upgrade them to goals. The path ahead may seem like a mountain to scale today, but having a custom home built to perfectly meet your needs and desires can be broken down into a proven strategy of very manageable steps.
Putting dreams on paper
It all begins with the dream… and now it’s time to write down all your needs and desires. Dream big, and then scale back as your priorities take shape.
Do you have your ideal area picked? If you have children, do you want them to attend a specific school district or school(s)? How many bedrooms will you need for your family? Are there in-laws to consider? Do you need to be near certain medical facilities? How important is a low crime rate to you? Is there a particular style you already agree on?
How many stories will your home be? How many bedrooms will you need? Do you require a basement? You’ll begin to establish priorities. Separate the “needs,” “wants,” “dreams,” and also “don’t wants.” Knowing what you don’t want can be just as helpful for the designer as understanding what you love.
Under needs, there will be “must-have” features, and other list items will move down to “nice to have”. It’s a good idea to rank the desired features by order of importance. The price range between custom homes varies greatly, and having clearly defined priorities will help with the difficult choices later on.
If you don’t already have a dream book or box, it’s time to begin collecting photos and brochures of fixtures, furniture, features, styles, colours and finishes. Pinterest is also a great digital resource. Brainstorming and giving your dream wings can take months, or for some couples, it will take years.
Establishing your initial budget
How quickly your dream house goal can come to fruition will likely be determined by finances. If you believe you’re able to afford the home you envision – or you’re close – it’s time to discuss your plans with your accountant and perhaps the bank. If you can secure pre-qualification for a mortgage, you’re way ahead of the game.
Once you work with your designer/builder and have located your property, you’ll be able to realign your budget with the total estimate for the finished home. Your final budget will include the cost of the land, local fees and taxes, the design and engineering fees, construction, landscaping, interior decorating, furnishing the home and a contingency allowance.
Make sure your credit score is in great shape. It’s important to speak with more than one lender, as the rates, and consequently, the amount you’ll be paying can vary significantly. Fixed-rate or variable? 5, 15 or 25 years? Government-insured Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or traditional? How much down? Your financial advisor can help you determine what’s best for you and your family.
Assembling your team
The most logical place to start may seem to be finding a piece of land, but the property will often dictate what you can build there. If you have a property already in mind you can certainly have your designer check if your ideas will work there.
You can have an architect draw up some plans and then find a builder; or have a designer/builder bring your dream home to life, streamlining the transition from design to construction and getting the project moving far more quickly.
Design-build is often compared to the “master builder” approach, which is one of the oldest forms of construction procedure. Today’s designer/builder is typically skilled with in-house drafting and computer-aided design (CAD), estimating, project management, hands-on construction and up to date with the latest Passive House and Net Zero construction practices and municipal code requirements.
The design and building processes include designing your new home, getting the insurance, arranging for the permits and payments, project management, scheduling inspections, clean-up and landscaping.
When locating your builder, it’s important to look for one of the “right size” for your project. In addition to looking into local builders’ reputations and their portfolios, you should take the time to share your vision in detail. You’re going to be working with the designer and construction team for quite a long time, so it’s critical that you feel these are people you can not only trust, but who share your passion for creating your dream home, and you have a really good feeling about working with them.
Finding the perfect location
The house plan you’re building, energy decisions, zoning and code considerations, terrain and even the direction of the best view will be factors in choosing the right lot for your custom home. The home’s orientation and availability of sun, the topography of the land and surrounding natural features; they all matter. A net zero home, for example, should face south and have high-performance windows. A solar PV array should also be installed on the south-facing roof. (Failing that, west or east-facing roofs would be your next best choice.)
Where you decide to build is as important as how. Your new home’s location will affect what you will be able to do with it, both structurally and aesthetically. Does your house require a flat lot and soft ground, so you can dig a basement? Or is a rocky crag overlooking a breathtaking view of the valley perfect for your vision? How about trees? It’s important to remember that tall, old trees cannot be planted, so they must already be thriving on the property.
If applicable, will the style of your home fit in with the other homes in your neighbourhood? Is the property in a neighbourhood or area you’d enjoy living in? How close are the neighbours? Is it near shopping, restaurants and schools?
If a spectacular private view or secluded wooded retreat are important to you, is a measure of inconvenience an acceptable trade-off for those benefits? How about resources? If your lot is outside established developments, will you need a well or septic tank? Will you have to pay extra for power, phone/internet and cable hookups?
Have you checked the zoning for the property? What is the setback distance from the street, or allowable height of your house? If it’s a historic district, or the property backs onto green space there may be unusual restrictions. If you’re planning to add an in-law suite, carriage house or detached garage or shop, you’ll also want to check on that.
The design process is a collaborative effort, between you, the designer or architect and the builder, the one(s) who must actually be able to construct your design in compliance with the local building code. Design involves interior design, exterior design, planning and then execution. Every component of the design needs to be worked out meticulously. Designing your dream home from start to finish is an exciting experience – the stuff lifelong memories are made of – and it’s important to enjoy every step of this journey.
The number of rooms you’ve decided on will be a big factor when designing the layout and size of your home. Determining how much space you need will be balanced with zoning restrictions, any neighbourhood ordinances and the size and layout of your lot. The style of the home needs to be considered, the number of stories and whether you’ll incorporate a finished attic or basement in the layout’s square footage.
It’s important to build your family’s lifestyle into the design. Do you love to cook, and your kitchen will be the central hub for preparing and enjoying many memorable meals together? Will you need a formal dining room and entertainment area? A big patio or enclosed deck for summer occasions? Do you need space to display art or bookshelves?
Will you need one, or perhaps two, home offices? Do you want to include a children’s playroom or media room? Do you need a mudroom, and perhaps a separate laundry room on the second floor? How about a garage, and if so, for how many cars? And will there be a detached workshop? How about a home gym? Or a music room? There are a lot of things to carefully consider.
Your BC Energy Step Code energy advisor will work with your designer/builder to make smart choices that improve the energy efficiency of your new home. The Province of BC has set new timelines and requirements for increased building energy-efficiency performance in the BC Building Code. This year, projects need to be 20 percent more energy efficient than those built to meet the requirements of the 2018 BC Building Code. By 2027, five years from now, the requirements will increase again, and your projects would then need to be 40 percent more efficient.
Designing a custom home is a tremendous undertaking, and the design and permit process can take eight to ten months. A celebration is in order here. It’s finally time to move from CAD drawings and architectural house plans and swatches to the building site.
We’ve all heard about the stress of building a custom home taking a heavy toll. But that does not have to be the case. It’s important to remember why you chose your designer/builder. It’s time to trust your crew to do what they do best… build your dream.
If there are no previous buildings to demolish, the surveyors can come in to stake out the corners of the footing and foundation walls, and soon excavation can begin. After the footings and foundations, there may be a slab to pour; but it’s once the framing begins that your new home will really begin to take shape. When the framing is completed the roofing and siding companies can begin. Windows will come next, closing in the building from the weather, and allowing it to be locked up on nights and weekends.
Rough plumbing, electrical, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and security rough-ins are typically next, followed by insulation, air/vapour barriers if required, and then drywall. It’s now time to begin painting the walls and ceilings. Cabinets, countertops and finish carpentry begin to arrive, usually before the painting is completed. Tile and hardwood will generally be next, but the scheduling can fluctuate, based on the availability of trades and possible delays.
About this time the plumbers, electricians and HVAC contractors will return to install plumbing fixtures, electrical and lighting. Appliances and window coverings will be installed about the time the driveway concrete company and landscapers arrive on the site.
How long will it take?
Building a custom home in the Sea to Sky Corridor or West Vancouver typically takes between ten and fourteen months, after the design and permit process.
The final review and walkthrough
When the construction is complete, the final walkthrough will represent the culmination of all the dreaming, planning and investment. The home and site should be cleaned up and final deficiencies handled. It’s time for your builder to call for the final inspections, granting occupancy for your house.
Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Squamish and Whistler builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.