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Designing and Building Your Own Dream Home

Dream home. Two simple words that, when put together, conjure up visions of grandeur. Cathedral ceilings, marble flooring, granite countertops, built-in everything. The type of house you wish you could afford. But can you?

The home of my dreams is unlike anything on the market. You won't see my home reproduced two houses down. In fact, you won't see a home like mine anywhere. For me, a dream home has nothing to do with expensive flooring or built-ins. It is the home of my family's dreams – the one we discussed, planned and sketched on paper. The home design we provided to the builder and not vice versa.

Designing then building your dream home can be exciting, aggravating, challenging and intriguing, all at the same time. Unless you know what to expect each week, it can also be tremendously frustrating, thus rendering your dream home a nightmare.

To ease that frustration, we've compiled this week-by-week account, from design through build, of the steps we took to complete our dream home. This chronicle could be a valuable reference point if you anticipate joining the trend toward custom home construction.

The Design

The home design – floor plan plus architectural style – is a critical element in custom construction. Decisions made now will impact the entire process, many of which cannot be changed later. To begin, we visited dozens of model homes, combed through home design magazines and selected a "mission" architectural style, based on the designs by Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect. Our realtor worked with us, listened to our preferences and transferred these preferences to a floor plan using home design software. This software allowed us to plot room dimensions, shift walls and fine-tune our floor plan again and again. Once finalized, this floor plan was then used as a tool to select a custom builder.

A custom builder should have vast experience with your chosen architectural style. He should be open to your custom ideas and work closely with an experienced architect to generate blueprints from your floor plan. These blueprints are first used by the survey crew to transfer the dimensions of your home to your lot. Later, blueprints are used by many subcontractors throughout the building process.

The Build

A typical building process is non-existent. Each build cycle varies drastically and is subject to a number of factors including schedules, availability of supplies and weather. Our 13-week build cycle proceeded as follows:

  • The excavation team first arrived and used the land survey to determine the size and depth of the foundation. By the end of the first week, our lot changed from a section of land to a large, carefully dug hole in the ground between the survey stakes.
  • During the second week, the foundation was built from a grid of wood frames filled with cement called footings. Once the footings cured, concrete blocks were layered on top. As the entire structure cured, tar and plastic were applied to the outside of the blocks to seal them against the elements. The blocks were inspected by the city inspector prior to the soil being back-filled around the home.
  • During the third and fourth weeks, the framing crew built a skeleton of the house using the blueprints. The exterior framework was covered in wood sheathing and windows and glass doors were installed prior to a framing inspection. An electrical walk-through with the builder was conducted to select the location for all lights, light switches, electrical outlets, phone lines, thermostat and the location for our basement utility room and external water spigots.
  • By the fifth week the plumber arrived and laid the pipes for the sinks, toilets, bathtubs and showers. Electricians installed the wiring for light fixtures and electrical appliances. A plumbing and electrical inspection was completed by the city inspector.
  • During week six, the insulation was placed within the framework of every outside wall and approved by the city inspector. We worked on the kitchen design, discussing ideas with custom cabinet builders and requesting estimates. We provided them with computerized drawings of the cabinets we wanted, plus photos from magazines to help them visualize our design.
  • Weeks seven and eight were dedicated to finishing the interior walls; the drywall was hung and the ceilings were sprayed.
  • During week nine, the interior woodwork was delivered. Window casings and baseboards were cut to fit and installed. Doors were shimmed and put into place. Stair railings were built and all other wood trim was completed. Our custom-built cabinets were delivered and secured into place.
  • Staining began in the 10th week. After staining all woodwork, the crew sanded the wood to a smooth finish before applying a coat of polyurethane. All interior walls were prepped with primer before painting.
  • In week 11, the walls were painted with two coats of flat paint. The week ended with the installation of our exterior brick while the cement crew returned to pour the garage and basement floors.
  • During the 12th week, crews focused on the exterior of the home and installed the siding. At the same time, the final grade of our yard was completed. After grading, the cement walkway and driveway were both poured.
  • The 13th week brought back the plumber to connect pipes to sinks, toilets, showers and bathtubs. Electricians returned to connect wires to light fixtures. The utility room was stocked with the furnace and water heater. Countertops were installed in the kitchen and bathrooms, finishing up with the flooring before the appliances were delivered and installed. A final inspection was conducted and the certificate of occupancy was issued to our builder.

A Look Back

As you forge through the building process, watching subcontractors pass through your home, perform their magic and then leave, you become somewhat overwhelmed by the complexity and magnitude of the entire project. Each person who enters your home is a small piece in a very large puzzle. Each, an expert in their field, completes their portion of the work so that the next subcontractor can arrive and build upon what has already been done. In the end, each puzzle piece has been carefully placed and, right before your eyes, up from the ground grows a home.

As I reflect back on the process, it is probably an adventure I will only do once in my lifetime. We have toiled over colors, wall placement, structural decisions and visited our home almost daily during the 13-week process. In a sense, we also became subcontractors of our home – overseeing the work, making dozens of phone calls and delivering final decisions. Building your dream home does come with a price, but it's a small price to pay for building a home exactly as you envisioned, for receiving your dream home come true.

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