In the last post I provided a short explanation as to what a “code home” or home built to code is versus a performance home. Today, I’m going to list the top six questions you should ask your builder before you contract on a new home to make sure you’re not settling for just a code home.
I will take a moment to point out that it’s uncommon to find a new home builder that exceeds minimum building code on homes sold under $250,000 in Grand Junction. If your budget doesn’t allow for more than $250k, I’d still recommend you consider new construction versus a used home. Even new homes built to the minimum standard are more durable, comfortable, energy efficient and will require less maintenance than a used home, not to mention a new home will be safer.
If you’re thinking about building a new home from the ground up or purchasing a new home in Grand Junction, Colorado you might want to ask your builder these six questions.
1) Does the home have an engineered foundation or is it built to the minimum code requirement?
Since the foundation of a home will impact the structural integrity of your home more than any other single feature, ask the builder if the home has an engineered foundation or if its simply built to the minimum code requirement? In order to build a new home in Mesa County, Colorado a builder does not need an engineer to design and inspect the foundation of new homes. The alternative to this is hiring an engineer who will research the soils report for your lot along with the construction plans for your house. The engineer then designs a plan that ensures the foundation will support the weight of the structure without sinking the ground below it or cracking due to excess weight and/or soil movement. After the engineer designs the plan, he will also inspect the crucial stages of construction to make sure the foundation is getting built as designed. The majority of new homes built in North Grand Junction today are built on a mono-slab foundation (also known as monolithic poured slabs—meaning the slab was poured as a single pour with thickened sections under load bearing walls and perimeter edges).
The biggest difference in construction of a mono-slab built to minimum code and a mono-slab designed by an engineer is the amount of rebar in the foundation. Rebar acts in the same way as the bone structure of the human body by adding support to the whole structure. Without rebar there isn’t much that holds the concrete together to keep it from settling and cracking. The more rebar, the more extra support there is to hold the foundation together. As an example, each Copper Creek home has around 100 sticks of rebar inside the concrete. The rebar is installed around the perimeter of the foundation and also through the center in what’s called a “rebar mat”. The rebar mat looks like a giant grid of rebar laid out in a grid pattern (see the picture). In contrast, a code home only needs rebar running around the perimeter of the house and there is no rebar mat running through the center of the foundation. This gives very little support to the foundation and creates a much high risk of settling and cracking over time. If your builder doesn’t use an engineer to design his foundations, in our opinion they’re cutting a big corner and passing the risk on to you and anyone else who will ever own the home.
2) What type of insulation is used?
The main types of insulation used today in this area are batts, blown-in cellulose, blown-in fiberglass and spray foam. The building code requires a minimum “R-value” for the walls of your home and batt insulation is allowed to achieve that R-value. Since they are cheaper, many builders still use batt insulation throughout the entire house. Some people in the building industry consider batt insulation to be “technology from the stone age” because of all the air gaps it leaves in the walls, along with the fact that batts tend to sag over the years creating even more of an air gap at the top of walls. We’ll talk more about the other materials in detail but for now I’ll just say that spray foam is the best type of insulation on the market because it fills the entire stud cavity (space between wall framing), leaving virtually no air gaps, has highest R-value, doesn’t sag over time, is very fire retardant and rodents don’t like to eat it or nest in it. The higher the R-value, the better the capacity of the insulating material to resist heat flowing through it, saving you money on your utilities. Blow-in insulation is the next best option because it does a better job of filling up the entire wall cavities than batts. There are pros and cons of going with blown-in cellulose or fiberglass but either is superior to fiberglass batts when insulating the walls around living space. With that said, batts are acceptable for use in garage walls because most garages aren’t heated or cooled. You can tell a lot about your builder by asking him what kind of insulation he plans to put in your home.
3) Is there any insulation in the interior walls for soundproofing?
There is another use for batt insulation other than described above and that is for soundproofing. There is no code requirement to have any insulation inside of interior walls such as the wall separating your master bedroom and the living room. If you would rather people sitting in the living room don’t hear everything happening in the master bedroom and vice versa, you should make sure there are sound batts inside of certain interior walls.
4) What brand of plumbing fixtures are used?
Plumbing fixtures are another item in the budget that you want to make sure isn’t getting neglected or skimped on. The kitchen sink and showers get used many times a day and have a lot of mechanisms that are prone to fail, which creates leaking and no one likes to deal with a leaking, dripping faucet of shower head or under a sink! We only use Moen plumbing fixtures in Copper Creek homes, which over a long period of time have proven to be the most durable, low maintenance plumbing fixtures on the market. Moen is also always on the cutting edge in terms of design and aesthetics.
5) What kind of carpet do you use?
Ask any flooring expert and they’ll tell you that Polyester carpet has a much shorter life span than Nylon carpet. If you don’t want to replace your carpet every 3-5 years (less if you have indoor pets) then you should make sure you’re getting Nylon carpet which lasts twice as long as polyester. While Polyester carpet looks good when its first installed, the the fabric breaks down and flattens out much faster, so it won’t look that great for very long. There are several different carpet materials that are superior to Polyester but I believe Nylon is the best alternative in terms of price and durability right now.
6) Does the hood vent in kitchen vent to the outside or recirculate indoors?
Building code does not require your smoke and odor sucking hood vent to push air outside of the house. This means the standard kitchen hood vent sucks up the bacon smoke, runs it through a wimpy filter and then pushes the so called filtered air back into the kitchen and the rest of the house, resulting in a stale smell. This is "ok" if you don’t mind your whole house smelling like bacon (there are worse things in life) but if you’d rather have those pungent kitchen odors and smoke & carcinogens vented outside, then be sure to check that out with your builder.
There are many other areas where a builder should be building above code, some are more important than the six listed above, but this is a just a quick list of some things that may not be as obvious or well known.
I’d also recommend that you have your builder give you the phone number to 3 previous customers who have lived in their house for more than 12 months. They’ll be able to tell you how things are holding up and how happy they are with their new home overall, as well as how well the builder responded to any “call backs” to fix things if needed. After asking your builder these questions at least you’ll know if your home is a “code home” or a home that has been built with above average quality.
In my opinion, if a builder is cutting any of the corners listed above, they should be giving you a can with your house at closing. A can that you’ll be responsible to kick down the road as things wear out and breakdown in your new home.
If you’d like to save yourself the disappointment of hearing the wrong answers to these questions, stop by Copper Creek North where we’ll be happy to show you some high performance homes!