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Construction wisdom for building or remodeling your home

Lately there has been a trend in Flagstaff to add air conditioning to homes.  This trend is indicative of how most houses are poorly designed and poorly built. A properly designed home in Flagstaff will stay cool inside even on 90 degree days, without the use of an air conditioner.  Flagstaff summer nights are often in the 40s and are rarely above the 50's. A quality home is designed to take advantage of this fact.

Proverbs 24:3-4: "By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches."

The Well Built Home:

General Home Design Considerations:

“The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of everyone that is hasty - only to want.” (Proverbs 21:5)

A two story house has less surface area exposed to the air than a one story house of the same square footage (8-9% less) and also has significantly less roof area, thus reducing storm water runoff and heat gain from the attic.  Build high, not wide!

Square shaped homes are more efficient than long rectangles.

Inside corners are BAD.  Avoid inside corners except at porches.

A large covered front porch helps make your neighborhood more friendly.   Provide at least 8' of depth. An 8'x12' front porch allows room for a chair and table set and still allows room for front door access.

Don't landscape with gravel. Gravel stores heat, whereas plants will make the air cooler, while removing pollution.

Good windows not only save energy, but make a house feel less drafty and more comfortable.

**spend money now for things that will be hard/expensive to change later**

Foundations:

"The wise man builds his house upon the Rock" - Jesus Christ

The foundation is the most important part of the house and the most ignored by the consumer.

Modern building codes specify good foundations.  Unfortunately these codes do not require rebar for interior slabs or for driveways.  However by adding rebar in these areas, strength and durability is greatly increased.

Radon gas can increase the chances of lung cancer.  Radon gas results from the natural decay of Uranium.  Northern Arizona is one of the nations richest areas for Uranium and as such also is rich in Radon gas.  Radon gas tends to collect inside of homes, especially in winter when windows are closed.  Ask for a Radon gas barrier and passive vent system to be installed under the slab of your new home before it is poured. Learn more about techniques to reduce Radon gas penetration into your new home from the EPA

Footings:

We don't try to build it to code minimums, rather we beef up the footings and slabs far beyond code minimums. The hardest thing to change on a house is the foundation! Do it the best the first time. It's a shame that new home buyers will pay more attention to the kitchen faucet, which is easy to change, than they will to how well the foundation is laid. (The wise man built his house upon the Rock!)

Framing:

Glue down sub floors and fasten with ring shank nails or screws (I hate a squeaky floor!)  Ask about our 1-1/8" 'silent floor' option.

Floor trusses are better than I-joists for several reasons.  Floor trusses do not contain OSB, which needs to be off-gassed. 
Floor trusses allow for easier installtion of electrical, plumbing and HVAC.

Roofing:

Design the roof so it needs little or no flashing.

Standing seem metal roofs are preferred. 

Architectural grade shingle roofs are more affordable, but are not environmentally friendly.  If you must use them:
#60 - 'peel and stick' ice shield at all eves and valleys to prevent leaks by ice damming. #30 felt on remainder of roof instead of #15.  We recommend a roof pitch of at least 6/12.  For remodel jobs, we recommend using 'peel and stick' underlayment on the entire roof if the pitch is less than 5/12.
Continuous ridge and soffit ventilation will help prevent destructive moisture build up.

Provide soffit ventilation even on gable soffits. Unvented gable soffits result in peeling paint on the fascia because moisture cannot escape. This is a very common mistake.

Avoid roof crickets, but if you must have one, be sure it extends at least 6" beyond the corner of the wall.

Flashing gables to walls - another common mistake is made here.  The Flashing Must extend on top of the siding at the bottom end.  Almost every house I've seen has this done wrong - water running along the flashing gets directed behind the siding at the bottom of the flashing. 

Again, a two story house has less roofing than a one story house, thus making a higher quality roof more affordable.

Attic Ventilation

Attics in Flagstaff are required by code to have 1 s.f. of ventilation for every 150 s.f. of attic area.  Most older homes do not have sufficient attic ventilation, which can contribute to moisture build up in the attic area as well as trapping excessive heat in the summer time.  Improper attic ventilation can result in numerous problems including moisture build-up, mold, early deterioration of roofing systems and wood structural damage.

Attic ventilation is typically accomplished through a combination of soffit vents, gable vents and ridge vents.

We can also provide mechanical (electric fan motor) ventilation for your attic space.  Mechanical ventilation can be thermostatically controlled to only operate when heat builds up in the attic in the warm summer months.  Attic ventilation can also be solar powered.

Siding:

Bricks or stone are the best - they insulate better, don’t need paint, look better, and last longer.
If you do choose siding, we use only top quality products, finished off with Premium paint or stain.  (Beware of other contractors who use 'builder grade' paint).

We reommend at least a wanescoating of masonary due to snow sitting up against the bottom few feet of the exterior walls.  Additonally water dripping off the roof and hitting the ground splashes against the bottom section of the siding. 
We consistantly see siding damaged in two places - near the ground and near roof crickets.

Due to the harsh climate and high elevation of Flagstaff, siding needs to be re-painted every 7 years or re-stained every 4 years.
In the long run masonry is much cheaper to heat and maintain.

Windows:

Wood widows with a permanent cladding on the outside are both beautiful and energy efficient.  Vinyl windows are more cost effective to install and are lower maintenance.  But not all vinyl windows are the same, so be sure to ask about the differences in quality an insulation.  Aluminum windows no longer meet code requirements for energy efficiency.

Design window placements that provide abundant natural light and cross-ventilation.

Windows placements that are shaded by eves on sunny sides in summer but not in winter. (Passive solar designs!)

Wood windows clad with Aluminum are more durable than ones clad with vinyl.  The vinyl can detriorate in the sunshine.

Electrical:

220v and gas in laundry room for electric or gas dryer option.
Dark Sky Lighting (NO light pollution - its nice to see the stars). Lighting tips by Flagstaff Dark Sky Coalition
Be sure that exterior light bulbs cannot be seen from standing height when mounted to exterior walls.
220v outlet in garage upon request.
Pre-wiring for an exterior hot tub upon request.
Switched under eve outlets for heat tape and Christmas lights.
Ceiling fans with wall mounted speed controls.
Dedicated outlet for deep freezer in garage to take advantage of cool air.
HIgh mounted outlets in kids bedrooms for baby monitors to plug into. (You don't want a dangling cord getting caught around the babies neck!)

Do not run wires horizantally through exterior walls.  Limit the number of outlets on exterior walls to the minimum required by code.

Plumbing:

Consider a Gas outlet for the BBQ grill.
We use only ¼ turn stainless steel water shut offs at all toilets and sinks (You probably haven't seen these before unless you've seen one of our homes).
Use only elongated low-flow toilets.  Dont' install round toilets!
Code requires 15" clearance on either side of the toilet, but I recommend 18" or more (little boys miss - a lot!).
We make the master shower large enough for two.

Consider the installation of a High-Efficiency tankless hot water heater - initial cost is higher, but it saves energy and money in the long run. Plus a tankless hot-water heater doen't run out of hot water.  But be sure to follow the manufactureres instructions for annual calcium deposit removal.

We will plumb your home in copper instead of poly upon request. Why?...
According to the EPA, certain copper alloys deliver continuous and ongoing antibacterial action, remaining effective in killing greater than 99.9% of bacteria within two hours, even after repeated wear and re-contamination;

(source: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6616/is_6_98/ai_n29446012/)

Mechanical:

Condensing furnaces are now required - but avoid two things:  don't run the condensing line through the attic - it will freeze! And don't run it into the sewer line near the low point in the plumbing (you don't want a sewer back-up going into your furnace ... it has happened!)

Vent the clothes dryer directly outside through wall (not through ceiling), thus preventing clogs and fire danger.

Insulation:

Besides insulating the attic and exterior walls, it is important to consider insulationg other areas of your home for comfort.

Insulate interior walls and ceilings - for sound dampening and increased thermal mass.

Insulate bath and laundry room walls and between floors for noise control.

Install insulated outlet covers on exterior walls - this is a common area of heat loss.

Insulate garage walls and ceiling even if they are not adjacent to livable areas - it's nice to be able to warm the garage if desired.
Plus the heat from your car engine will keep an insulated garage warm all night.

Specify fiberglass insulation in the attic instead of cellulose (Fiberglass resists mold better).

Doors:

Fiberglass or Wood front and back doors. No steel doors (they dent). 
Do NOT apply polyurethane or any other film-building coating to the outside of a stained wood door.  Apply an exterior stain only.  And re-apply at least every 4 years.

Drywall:

I prefer a smooth finish such as is found in the custom homes of the NorthEast.   My next choice is “Santa Fe” smooth.

NEVER apply a splatter texture or orange peel, since these require a special tool to apply and make a big mess when trying to repair.    Every house needs a drywall repair at some point - be sure that the finish you choose can be easily re-applied with hand tools.

To prepare for drywall installation, we plane down any headers etc… that are sticking out before hanging drywall. It’s worth taking the 15 minutes now with the electric planer instead of fighting the casing later for hours!
We use 5/8" drywall on all ceilings (it's tougher and quieter, especially important on ceilings).  We can also install soundboard underneath the drywall to reduce noise between rooms. 

Do NOT use the new light-weight drywall.  It has limited insulation properties for both sound and heat.  It also has less thermal mass which means your furnace will cylce on and off more often.   BRRRR....

Painting:

We use only top quality Dunn-Edwards or Sherwin-Williams paints. There is a difference. Most builders use the cheapest, we use the best. You may not appreciate the difference now, but you will down the road!  Most builder do not apply primer.  You only get one chance to apply primer... at least until the house peels to bare wood, at which point you get a second chance.  Specify top quality paints and primers - do not settle for "builders grade" paint. 

Floor Covering:

Tile/hardwoods in all heavy use areas (front door to kitchen). 
Seal all grout - twice - with the best sealer money can buy.

We do not recommend carpet but if you must:  Nylon carpet which wears better than Polyester.  Use only upgraded carpet pad - min. 1/2" 8lb - this is probably the cheapest item a builder can upgrade that will bring you daily pleasure, yet most builders still use the cheapest pad in an effort to see a little more profit.  Carpet traps a lot of dirt.  It is much better to choose solid surface flooring and then place area rugs where you want.

 

"If a low price is your primary concern, you'll pay more in the end. The is no substitute for quality."

Budgeting to construct a new home:

Proverbs 24:27: "Prepare your work outside, and make it ready for yourself in the field; Afterwards, then, build your house."

It is much more enjoyable to build a small home with a generous budget than a large home on a tight budget. 

Build within your means and spend for items that are hard to change later, such as upgraded windows, roofing, foundation and insulation.  5 years down the road it is much easier to change your countertops than to change the footings or to add insulation to the garage walls.

Highwood Construction - Licensed General Contractor

Serving Flagstaff and Northern Arizona

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