Building a new home or renovating can be a complicated process. Our process follows a pattern that allows for inspections as the home is built. Inspections are conducted by two entities throughout the process. County building inspectors make sure the home satisfies the requirements of the building code. We also use third party HERS raters to inspect our homes. The HERS raters inspect and test the home to make sure it is energy efficient. They assign a score for the home’s degree of energy efficiency. Example: a HERS score of 55 would mean that the home heating, cooling, and other “operational costs” of cooking, lighting and hot water, should cost about 55% of what a similar home would cost, providing a savings of about 45% on one’s electric/gas utility bill. The building process is as follows:
1. Planning meeting with the client:
The contractor and the client need to discuss the plan thoroughly. All items needed to finish the home should be selected: plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, floor coverings, siding, shingles, windows, doors; all of the “finish” items needed to construct the home. Knowing these items at the beginning will save a good deal of time during the construction process. We have checklists that help make this part of the process easier.
2. Prepare the site and pour the foundation:
Often, site preparation and foundation work are performed by the same crew, but this may not be the case with a wooded lot. Using a backhoe and a bulldozer, the crew clears the site of rocks, debris and trees for the house and, if applicable, the septic system. The site is leveled and sometimes a basement is excavated if a part of the plan. A surveyor “pins” the foundation, showing each corner and every pier needed to support the home. Footings are dug and poured to support the house. If your home is going to have a well, it may be dug at this point. If the home has a full basement, the hole is dug, the footings are formed and poured, and the foundation walls are formed and poured. If it’s slab-on-grade, the footings are dug, formed and poured; the area between them is leveled and fitted with utility runs (e.g. plumbing drains and electrical chases); and the slab is poured. Once concrete is poured into the holes and trenches, it will need time to cure. During this period, there will be no activity on the construction site. After the concrete is cured and foundation walls are in place, the crew applies a waterproofing membrane to the foundation walls; installs drains, sewer and water taps and any plumbing that needs to go into the first-floor slab or basement floor; and backfill excavated dirt into the hole around the foundation wall. We also smooth the crawl space areas inside the foundation, adding sand across the crawl space. We then insulate the crawl space walls as we build insulated conditioned crawl spaces, making the home more energy efficient and comfortable.
INSPECTION #1: A city inspector visits the site and inspects the footings, slab component, or basement excavation to insure that the foundation is sound. This inspection may be repeated depending on the type of foundation (slab, crawl space or basement). A HERS inspector makes sure that the crawl space is insulated and sealed correctly and that it will stay dry.
3. Complete rough framing:
The floor systems, walls and roof systems are completed (collectively known as the shell or skeleton of the house). Plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing is applied to the exterior walls and roof, and windows and exterior doors are installed. The sheathing is then covered with a protective barrier known as a house wrap; it prevents liquid water from infiltrating the structure, while allowing water vapor to escape. This reduces the likelihood of mold and wood rot. We typically use 2″ x 6″ studs on the exterior walls, allowing for R19 insulation and roof sheathing with Reflectix (a radiant-barrier foil) on the underside. This material is really neat: it blocks the sun’s UV rays, making it easier to cool the home in the summer. In the winter, it reflects the heat back down in the home, making it easier and less expensive to heat. Also, the rafters and/or roof trusses are built with a “heel” or canter levered in a way that will allow a full 12″ of insulation over the top plate of the outer walls. And we use very energy-efficient windows and doors.
4. Complete rough plumbing, electrical and HVAC:
Once the shell is finished, siding and roofing can be installed. At the same time, electrical and plumbing contractors start running pipes and wires through the interior walls, ceilings and floors. Sewer lines and vents, as well as water supply lines for each fixture, are installed. Bathtubs and one-piece shower/tub units are put in place at this point because there’s more room to maneuver large, heavy objects. Ductwork is installed for the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, and possibly the furnace. HVAC vent pipes are installed through the roof, and insulation is installed in the floors, walls and ceilings. After the roofing goes on, the house is considered “dried in.” The electrician then installs receptacles for outlets, lights and switches and runs wires from the breaker panel to each receptacle. Wiring for telephones, cable TV and music systems is included in this work. Note that HVAC ducts and plumbing are usually installed before wiring, because it’s easier to run wires around pipes and ducts than vice versa.
INSPECTIONS 2, 3 and 4: Rough framing, plumbing and electrical and mechanical systems are inspected for compliance with building codes. The HERS rater will also visit the site to make sure framing is done correctly. This rater will check to make sure any “holes” from pulled nails or running the various services are caulked correctly. We also install material at the top plate, corners, and bottom plate to insure that there is no draft leakage in the home. The idea is to keep all cooled and/or heated air inside the envelope of the home, not allowing any to escape. At this stage, drywall (also known as plasterboard, wallboard or gypsum board) is delivered to the building site. Sheetrock®, a registered trademark of USG Corporation, is sometimes used as a generic term for drywall.
5. Install insulation:
Insulation plays a key role in creating a more comfortable, consistent indoor climate while significantly improving a home’s energy efficiency. One of the most important qualities of insulation is its thermal performance or R-value, which indicates how well the material resists heat transfer. Most homes are insulated in all exterior walls, as well as the attic and any floors that are located above unfinished basements or crawl spaces. Insulation is carefully installed, making sure cavities behind light switches and electrical outlets are insulated. The idea is to create a thermal envelope around the living space in the home. And this envelope extends from the attic down the exterior walls all the way to the ground. We try to eliminate any and all breaks in this thermal envelope except for those necessary: bathroom and kitchen fan vents and the dryer vent.
INSPECTION 5: County Code Inspectors and the HERS rater return to inspect the insulation to make sure it is installed correctly.
6. Complete drywall and interior textures; start exterior finishes:
Drywall is hung and taped so the seams between the boards aren’t visible. The primer coat of paint is also applied after taping is complete. Contractors begin installing exterior finishes such as brick, stucco, stone and/ or siding.
7. Finish interior trim; install exterior driveways and walkways:
Interior doors, baseboards, door casings, window sills, moldings, stair balusters and other decorative trim are installed, along with cabinets, vanities and fireplace mantels and surrounds. Walls get a finish coat of paint and are wallpapered where applicable. Generally, exterior driveways, walkways and patios are formed at this stage. We prefer to wait until the end of the project before pouring the driveway because heavy equipment (such as a drywall delivery truck) can damage concrete.
8. Install hard-surface flooring and counter tops; complete exterior grading:
Ceramic tile, vinyl and wood flooring are installed as well as counter tops. Exterior finish grading is completed to ensure proper drainage away from the home and prepare the yard for landscaping.
9. Finish mechanical trims; install bathroom fixtures:
Light fixtures, outlets and switches are installed and the electrical panel is completed. HVAC equipment is installed and registers completed. Sinks, toilets and faucets are put in place.
INSPECTION 6: County code inspectors check the electrical and HVAC installation and approve the connection of temporary electrical service. Then all electrical assets in the house are powered and can be checked, items like an electrical hot water heater.
10. Install mirrors, shower doors and finish flooring; finish exterior landscaping:
Mirrors, shower doors and carpeting are installed, and final cleanup takes place. Trees, shrubs and grass are planted and other exterior landscaping completed.
INSPECTION 7: A building-code official completes a final inspection and issues a certificate of occupancy (C.O.). If any defects are found during this inspection, a follow-up inspection may be scheduled to ensure that they’ve been corrected. The home is now approved for occupancy. The HERS rater returns and completes a final checklist on the efficiency and comfort of the home. A variety of tests are completed that show how tight the house is and the integrity of the thermal envelope. One test also measures the atmospheric pressures in individual rooms, allowing for the heat and cooling temperatures to be balanced throughout the house. A final HERS score is assigned to the home and presented to the homeowner.
11. Final walkthrough:
We will walk the client through the new home to check features and the operation of various systems and components, and explain one’s responsibilities for maintenance and upkeep as well as warranty coverage and procedures. It’s also an opportunity to spot items that need to be corrected or adjusted. Surfaces of countertops, fixtures, floors and walls are examined for possible damage and/or flaws.
A Few Words about Inspections:
A new home will be inspected periodically during the course of construction by both county inspectors and HERS raters. I’ve tried to point out when these will take place. The idea is to catch as many potential problems as possible before construction is finished, though some issues may not surface until you’ve lived in the home for a period of time. We do guarantee our construction for a year, and we will return to fix/repair errors resulting from or during the construction process. Damage resulting from homeowner abuse or accidental damage resulting from some mishap is not covered.