Do's and Don'ts of Building a New Home


Interior Designer Tamarisk McNalty Stephens shares the best practices she’s learned while building her new home.

OUR HOMES London Winter 2018-2019A version of this article originally appeared in OUR HOMES Winter 2018-2019. 

Interior Designer (I) Tamarisk McNalty Stephens and her husband are in the midst of building a new home in Grey County. She shares the do's, the don’ts and the best practices she’s learned along the way. The number one lesson? Be prepared to make dozens more decisions than expected.
Evaluate your needs. We lived in a small cabin on our property for five years. This experience taught us what was actually important to us – insulation and enough space to entertain friends and family – and the things we could live without, like a basement and an en suite bathroom.
Hire professionals when it comes to the architectural and interior design of your home. Experience is invaluable especially if it’s your first time building. Professionals can help bring your vision to life.
Decide on a budget figure that you are comfortable with and speak to your bank early to arrange financing.

Talk to all authorities having jurisdiction early. Your local municipality’s planning department will have by-laws that apply to the planned structures and all associated parameters, setbacks, etc. Our project is located within the catchment area of the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority, and it took several months to receive the final approvals.
Submit a complete application when applying for your building permit to avoid delays.
Forget to contact your insurance company to get builder’s insurance for the duration of construction.

Design a home to suit your unique property. Each site will have natural restrictions, but take the time to consider the views and natural light, the location of outbuildings, where you’d like future gardens and outdoor living areas or a pool. Map out the footprint of the home in the proposed location. Morning sun is very important to me, and in our initial site I realized that I didn’t have morning sun hitting the house until about 10 a.m. – that just wasn’t going to work!
Pay special attention to the layout of doors and windows. It can be desirable for interior doors to align with windows.
Purchase the best quality windows that your budget will allow. Windows are a detail that are often overlooked, and aside from their thermal rating, they can truly make or break the overall exterior appeal and aesthetic of a home.
Think about kitchen and bathroom design, electrical layout, the switching plan and a furniture layout early on so you have all of the answers when your trades are ready to go. Select your appliances early, so, for example, you can plumb water to your fridge if you have an integrated water dispenser/ice maker.
Think about heating and cooling options early. Walk through with a mechanical contractor to understand how they need to run their duct work so you will know where you’ll have bulkheads and registers.
Try to anticipate and integrate structural elements such as dropped beams and/or bulkheads needed to house mechanical equipment into the design – they could become an unexpected feature.
Consider various levels of lighting – general, accent and task – to create an inviting space and wire for it even if you don’t intend to use it right away. It’s easier and cheaper to do this before the drywall is installed.
Rush the design phase. It takes a lot of thought and consideration to get a home that has a layout that meets your needs and is also aesthetically appealing from both the exterior and interior.
Request quotes from two suppliers, which is generally sufficient. It is time consuming for suppliers to quote a job/project, so be mindful of that.
Decide where you want to splurge and where you can save. For me, the exterior presence of the home is really important. I didn’t want to compromise on the exterior finishes (windows, doors and siding). 
Create a spreadsheet to track expenditures and stick to the budget as best you can.
Forget to include development fees when calculating the approximate cost of your building permit – they might be an unwelcome surprise.

Make sure you are able to devote the time required if you are taking on the project management. It involves being on site and scheduling trades and deliveries, pricing and ordering plus managing the budget.
Make changes on site without considering the implications. Changes will invariably happen as the build progresses and it is important to be mindful of how these changes will impact other elements of the build.