For some boomers, building a new home in Florida is the ultimate dream. There’s not much more exciting in real estate than picking a lot, choosing or designing a floorplan, making your interior design selections, and seeing it all come together right before your very eyes.
Besides being exciting, it can also be described as overwhelming, daunting, mind boggling, and a slew of other adjectives. After reading this chapter, you should feel comfortable enough with Florida new home construction that if you do choose to build a new home here, the words you use to describe it will hopefully lean more towards “exciting.”
Choosing a Florida Homebuilder
There are many factors that should go into your choice of home builder. The most important factors are those that are important to you. Of course, these are different for everyone. Some people want the very best price available, while others don’t mind paying more for higher quality. Some want a builder that will hold their hand throughout the entire process, while others prefer to have very little contact with the builder. Others still want total control over their selections, while some don’t mind if the builder even chooses the colors. It’s very important that you decide for yourself what factors are important to you before you start looking for a builder.
Once you decide on the factors that are most important to you, do some investigating. If it’s the best price you desire, visit several communities and see which builder is offering the best incentives. Builders with numerous homes in their inventory ready to move into are more likely to give incentives than a builder who has no standing inventory. Check the local paper in the area you are looking for homes, and scan the advertisements for good deals and incentives. A local real estate agent might be able to point you in the direction of the best deals in town.
If quality is the most important thing to you, spend some time in the builder’s model homes looking around on your own and examining things like the trim work, the drywall, and the paint. Look for anything that’s not quite right such as wavy walls or uneven paint applications. Chances are if the builder didn’t take the time to get his models right, he won’t take the time to get your home right. If the builder does not have a model, see if he has a list of customers that you may contact to try and go see their homes.
Working with the homebuilder and his staff
The first person you will meet when looking at model homes will be the builder’s sales staff. Start with them. Are they presentable, eager to help answer your questions, and polite? Or are they abrasive, pushy, rude, and uncaring? Typically, if they like their jobs, and take pride in the product they are representing, odds are good that you’re looking at a pretty good builder.
Remember that the salesperson will typically be the direct line to the builder for you throughout the homebuilding process. Keep in mind that you are probably not their only customer. So if they are busy with others when you stop by to ask a question or report a complaint, be respectful of them and their time. Respect is reciprocal.
Some builders will have you meet with different members of their staff during different phases of the construction process. You may meet with a decorator, an architect, a superintendent, or all of these before and during the construction process. To save time for everyone, before meeting with each representative, have your questions ready.
A few builders allow their customers to walk the construction site whenever they want, others only allow it at specific times during the process. In either case the builder’s insurance policy usually does not cover you if you are injured, if you step on a nail, or trip and fall over some plywood. Construction sites, no matter how well they are supervised can be dangerous; so most builders require that you be escorted by someone on their staff when you visit the construction site and that you visit at times when subcontractors are not working inside. It may not always be convenient or possible for you to get to the construction site during the builder’s business hours. If that is the case, you are at your own risk when you visit the site.
How to Choose a Floor Plan
Obviously you need to choose a floor plan that fits well with the way you live your life. If you plan to use your home in Florida just as a second home or vacation home, and rarely expect to have many guests accompany you, then maybe a one or two bedroom condo, townhouse, or small home will fit your needs. If you expect more people, or plan to use the home as a primary residence and are accustomed to a much bigger home, obviously you will want to go bigger with a large condo (maybe even combine two adjacent units), a large townhouse, or a single family home.
The key to finding a floor plan that fits your needs is to spend some time in the builder’s model homes, if available, and try to envision things such as furniture layouts, traffic patterns, blending of public spaces, such as the flow from the kitchen to the living room, as well as private spaces, such as bedrooms and bathrooms. Place most of your interest in areas that meet your lifestyle needs. For example, if you love entertaining, look for an extra large great room and maybe an open kitchen. If you plan on having lots of visitors–and remember everyone wants to come to Florida–then focus on bedroom sizes. You get the idea.
You may be accustomed to the split bedroom floor plan. These are popular in Florida as well. However, in some developments where the lots are narrower (such as 40, 50, or 60, feet wide) you may find that split bedrooms are rare. Not many builders have found a way to make an efficient split bedroom floor plan for those size lots. Most people, however, find that once they are in a home with the bedrooms on the same side, that they don’t really miss the split bedrooms all that much. Split bedrooms are great for families, especially with teenagers who like to crank up their stereos or play their drums. Having the secondary bedrooms on opposite sides of the house from the master bedroom provides parents more peace and quiet. But most baby boomers retiring to Florida or using their home as a second home don’t have that problem, and find that a non-split plan works just fine for them.
Choosing a Lot
The selection of a lot to build your home on is, for some people, even more important than choosing the floor plan or who builds your house. We all know the saying, “location, location, location.”
Some people are very particular about their lot, as well they should be. The lot you choose will determine several things, such as the quality of view you will have, your level of privacy, your utility bills, the price, and your home’s future resale value. Some people could care less what lot their home is built on, but taking everything into consideration, they certainly should.
In Florida, water views, be it the ocean, river, lake, or pond are the most coveted, followed by views of a golf course. As such, prices and premiums you will pay to look at these vistas are higher than say, a lot with a view of the interstate. Also many people like to have their home back up to a conservation area, which assures them of privacy in that nothing can be built behind them.
Most people don’t think about it but the lot you choose can also have an effect on your heating and cooling costs. On most homes, the majority of the windows are located on the front and rear of the home. If the home is placed on a lot with an east/west exposure (home faces east or west) more sunlight will enter the home, increasing your utility bills in the summer time, and lowering your heating costs in the winter.
There are other considerations if you are going to have a swimming pool at your home. If the rear of your home faces east, your pool and patio areas will be shaded from the sun in the afternoons, but will have the morning sun. Some people prefer the afternoon shade while some prefer the afternoon sun. Others still prefer a north/south exposure, which evens out the two extremes. There is no right or wrong answer, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you did not at least consider what you might like before choosing a lot. My advice is try to visit the lot you are considering at different times of the day and see what exposure you think will work best for you.
Making Your Selections
After finalizing your contract with the builder, you will be given a time to either meet with the builder’s decorator, or to visit their design center. This is when you pick all the colors and interior materials that will give your home its personality, including things like cabinets, carpeting, tile, countertops, paint colors, and so on. Depending on the size home you’ve chosen, this may be a short two to three hour process, or it could span several appointments over the course of a couple days or weeks.
No matter how many homes you build, this will always be one of the most stressful times because what you choose here will determine how your home is going to look and function for years to come. To minimize the time and stress that picking everything out will invariably cause, it pays to have done your homework as to what you like beforehand. This way you won’t be making any split second decisions on things that you might not be able to change later. Take pictures of ideas you see in model homes or tear out pictures in magazines of things you might like to have in your new home.
Have you ever bought a perfect car?
For most people, the answer to this seemingly out of place question is no. No matter what make, model, or how much you pay, there seems to always be at least one problem or imperfection that you notice within the first couple weeks of owning a new vehicle.
Well, no matter where you purchase or how much you pay, don’t expect anything different with a new home. Just think, cars are built in a factory, protected from the elements like sun, heat, and rain. Machines and computers also play a big role in the production of a car.
Unfortunately, homes don’t have those advantages. They are built in the dirt out in the hot sun, being rained on and rained in, often exposed to the worst Mother Nature has to offer. And to be quite honest, a high school degree is a major accomplishment for some of the people doing the actual physical labor on your home. Sure, some may even have some college under their tool belts but remember, digging footers, laying block, and hammering nails aren’t $100 an hour jobs.
Fortunately for you, the builder supervising them in most cases is well educated and more importantly licensed to make sure your home is built up to the requirements of the city, county, or municipality where the permit was issued. You’ve also got city inspectors who are trained to discriminate between good work and bad work, looking out for you.
And finally, you have the next several pages of critical steps in the new home construction process to help ease your mind during what can be a confusing and frustrating time. While it won’t by any means tell you how to go out and build your own home, this information should give you the knowledge to feel a bit more comfortable with everything that will go on during the new home construction process.
Once the floorplan and other structural features of the home have been selected, the builder will submit the plans to the city for approval. When submitted, the plans for the home must usually be accompanied by an architect’s or an engineer’s seal, essentially stating that they certify that the home is planned in accordance with the proper design specifications and building codes. Hard construction cannot begin until the permits have been received back from the city.
If the city feels the plans submitted comply with all current zoning and building codes, they will issue the builder permits to build the home. A copy of the plans and permits will be kept in a permit box in plain view at the construction site and checked frequently by city inspectors throughout the construction process.
Fill, Compact, and Site Prep
Most of the residential lots being built on these days in Florida require at least some amount of fill dirt to bring them up to the elevation required by the city or municipality which issued the building permit. Usually once the lot is filled and compacted, an engineer will come out and conduct a compaction test, to make sure the dirt added to the lot has been properly compacted. Not every lot that is filled needs to be tested for compaction. The builder usually has a set standard for lots that they test, such as lots requiring more than one foot of fill. A lot that has not been compacted properly is prone to settling, which can cause cracks in foundations and walls, and more trouble for you down the road.
Anything else that stands in the way of construction of your new home will be removed at this point. Brush will be cut back. Trees too close to the home are susceptible to damage by trucks and other machinery, and tree roots can damage the foundation, so if any trees still need to be removed it will happen at this time. The lot will be graded, generally sloping slightly towards the front, back, and sides to help with drainage. The area of the lot where the home will go will also be leveled, so that in the end, your house will be level as well.
Hub and Tack
Once the lot is filled and compacted, a survey crew will come and stake out the home, also called hub and tack. At this point, the corners of your home will be set.
Form the Slab
Pieces of lumber, typically 2 x 10s turned on their side, are used to create the perimeter of the slab. Footers are then dug out underneath the 2 x 10s. Footers, which are a couple of feet deep (depths vary area to area and builder to builder), and wider than the walls of the home, provide the support necessary to help make the house more sturdy.
Metal reinforcements rods will run around the perimeter of the home and will be positioned vertically at certain intervals to go up inside of the block that will be placed on top of the slab. These will eventually help connect the slab to the tie beam at the top level of the block.
Elevation and Setback Survey
At this point, a survey is done to make sure that the home is being built within the confines of its particular lot, and does not encroach on neighboring properties. The elevation of the lot is also checked, to be sure that it is at the height required by the city, county or municipality that issued the permit.
Rough Plumbing and Inspection
Water and sewer lines, which will be in place under the foundation of your home, are run at this time. The water lines will typically be made of copper, and drainage lines will be made of PVC piping. Any electrical outlets needing to be placed in the floor can also be installed at this time. Otherwise the slab will have to be cut later to install them. Once complete, an inspector will verify that each element of the rough plumbing has been installed properly.
Most builders in Florida will provide some form of termite treatment for the home. The most common type is a slab pretreatment that will be done before the slab is poured. The purpose of this pretreatment is to prevent termites from getting into your home and doing serious damage in the future. If you were to visit your new home the day that it is treated for termites, you may be overcome by a very strong odor. That’s the termite treatment.
Due to environmental, scheduling, and cost concerns, some builders will not pretreat your slab but will treat the actual wood inside your home. After the framing is complete you may see that it looks like the bottom three or four feet have been stained, usually a greenish color. In this case, a termite treatment such as Boracare® has been used to treat your home for termites. The jury is still out as to which is the better treatment for the prevention of termites.
Prep the Slab
Once the rough plumbing is completed, a vapor barrier comprised of several sheets of plastic will be placed over the area in which the slab will be poured. This helps to keep moisture in the ground from penetrating the foundation and getting into your home once the slab has been poured over it.
Before the slab is poured an inspector will come and make sure that all work done up until this point is up to code, that all procedures have been properly followed, and construction is safe to proceed.
A side note here about inspections. While absolutely necessary, they can add a significant amount of time to the construction of your home, especially in areas where there is a lot of construction going on. Inspection departments are notoriously understaffed and overburdened with work. Sometimes you may see your house just sitting idle, with no work going on and your natural reaction may be to get angry with the builder.
Believe me, the builder wants to complete your home quickly, sometimes more quickly than you may even want him to. While your home is under construction he is likely carrying costs such as a mortgage on the land, insurance, and taxes, not to mention hard construction costs. Understand that when your home is sitting idle that sometimes it is the builder experiencing delays, but most often he is probably waiting on an inspection to be completed before he can proceed.
Pour the Slab
Next, the slab and the footings are poured. In the case of a monolithic slab, one long continuous pour of concrete is all it takes to create your slab. Wire mesh, or more commonly these days, high strength fibers, are usually embedded in the slab to increase its strength and help minimize cracking.
Ideal weather conditions for the pouring of your slab are that the weather should be dry, with little to no chance of rain during the pour, and temperatures should not be extremely hot or extremely cold. If after the slab is poured, it appears rain may be in the forecast, sheets of plastic should be placed over the freshly poured slab to keep it from getting wet. Excess moisture can affect the appearance of the concrete, as well as the integrity of the slab.
While the slab won’t reach it’s ultimate strength for 20 to 30 days, it will usually be strong enough for construction to proceed in just a few days.
Eventually with almost every concrete slab, you may see some hairline cracks. They most likely won’t appear for a couple months but inevitably some will appear. These do not indicate that you have a bad slab, but are most likely just settling or expansion cracks, the result of extreme temperatures, wind, and evaporation of water in the concrete. One concrete company representative said that the only guarantee they can give is that all concrete will crack, it’s just a matter of when and to what degree.
If you are overly concerned about cracks that have appeared in your concrete slab, you might request that the builder hire an engineer to come take a look and certify that it is okay. You will likely have to pay for this service, but if it helps you sleep better at night, it may well be worth the few hundred bucks.
Once the slab is in place, another survey will be conducted, just to be extra certain that your home will not encroach on anyone else’s property. It’s better to discover this problem at this stage, when it will likely cost only several thousand dollars to fix, rather than later when it’s a much more costly problem to fix.
It takes a few days for the slab to cure long enough to support block being placed on top of it. Once the slab is cured, the block is then placed on top of the slab to form the outside walls, or shell of your home. Holes are left where the doors and windows will go, and any glass block that you have ordered is normally installed at this stage as well.
You will also see holes every so often along the bottom row of block called inspection ports where the metal reinforcement rods are sticking up from the slab into the block. These holes are included so the inspector can see that the slab, by the use of the metal in it, is effectively attached at set intervals by metal and concrete to the block walls.
Solid Pour Cells, Lintels and Tie Beam
Steel and poured concrete will be added to the block at predetermined intervals, usually every four or five feet. This process is done to add extra strength to the shell of your home and as previously mentioned, connect the shell to the slab. Lintels around all windows and doors will be poured to add strength around these openings, and then the tie beam (top layer of block poured solid) will be poured. This will have steel rods embedded in it as well, and hurricane straps that will later be attached to the trusses will also be embedded in the tie beam.
Lumber and Trusses Get Delivered
About this time in the construction process, your roof trusses and the lumber for your roofing and interior framing are usually delivered. In some cases these materials may sit unused for some time while other projects are being worked on. Just how long they sit out, exposed to the elements, rain, sunshine, and heat depends on the builder’s efficiency in scheduling as well as availability of work crews. To minimize weather exposure most builders will at least cover the materials lying out with tarpaulins or plastic sheets.
Trusses and Roof Decking
Your trusses, which will arrive at the home site already assembled and ready to install, act as a sort of skeletal system for your roof. They will be set on top of the block usually with the assistance of a crane. Once they are secured to the block walls with the metal “hurricane” straps embedded into the tie beam, the roof decking will be placed on top.
OSB vs. Plywood
Some builders use plywood roof decking while others use oriented strand board, or OSB. There is endless controversy about which is the better product. The fact is though that both products are excellent in their purest, undamaged forms. The problem that sometimes occurs with OSB is that its exterior “seal” may get damaged on site and lessen its integrity and ability to repel water. Don’t fret if your builder insists on using OSB; just make sure that each piece being placed on your roof is in good condition.
Framing of the interior walls of your home will also be done at this time, and rooms will really start to take shape. Don’t worry too much if the framing work looks a little rough at this point. There will be a framing “punch-out” later where everything that needs correcting will be taken care of. Feel free to point out anything that you think may not be obvious to the builder, mistakes can and do happen, but also feel secure in knowing that there will be a framing inspection to make sure everything has been done safely and correctly. Some builders will also do a framing walkthrough with you just to make sure everyone agrees nothing has been overlooked.
Windows will be installed and usually any sliding glass doors in your home will be installed as well. Windows on most production homes in Florida will be single glaze windows, also known as single-pane windows. If you are coming from a cooler climate you may be shocked at first that builders in Florida use single-pane windows, as you wouldn’t have even thought of using them up north. However, single-pane windows are used quite frequently in Florida. One reason is that Florida does not experience the wide temperature swings like the north does. Another argument for them is that it takes about 5-7 years of energy savings to recoup the cost of installing the double-pane windows versus the single-pane, while most people move every 4-5 years anyway.
This doesn’t mean you should necessarily settle for single-pane windows. If you plan on being in the home more than a few years, the investment will pay off for you. With double pane windows the extra pane of glass and the air in between the two panes adds a few extra layers of insulation and therefore comfort to your home. Triple-pane windows are even available on some higher end homes.
Impact Resistant Windows
Impact resistant windows are also gaining in popularity with the increasing awareness of hurricanes and the damage they can cause. In fact, in more and more coastal areas, new homes that are in what is called the “wind-borne debris region” are required to have either impact resistant windows, or some other approved window covering or shutters. Shutters are often the prevailing choice of cost conscious builders and home buyers, as impact resistant windows can be very expensive; usually three to four times the cost of standard windows.
A layer of felt-like material will be placed over the roof decking to provide an extra layer of moisture protection. If shingles get blown off in a storm, water still has the roof sheathing covered by this felt to contend with before it can enter your home.
The shingles are now placed on the roof. The most common type of roof shingle on production homes are asphalt shingles because they are relatively inexpensive and they get the job done. Asphalt shingles will be nailed down to the roof. Asphalt shingles come in 5-year to over 50-year ratings. The higher the rating, the more substantial the shingles and thus the higher levels of winds they can withstand. The builders marketing materials will usually specify the rating of the shingles they install.
You should keep in mind that if you get, for example, a 30-year rated shingle, in all likelihood it will not last you 30 years. Florida’s weather fluctuations from warm to sweltering and dry to wet, can take a heavy toll on roof shingles. The factory ratings are for the shingle’s lifespan under ideal weather conditions.
Tile and Metal Roofs
Alternatives to asphalt shingles are tile, either made of clay or concrete, and metal roofs. Though each is more expensive than asphalt shingles they will both last longer and require a little less maintenance. The covenants in the neighborhood where your home being built will sometimes dictate what type of roof your home must have, but if given a choice, you might consider a tile or metal roof.
Tile roofs have a long lifespan if installed and maintained properly. Roof tiles are made in a variety of colors to blend with your home’s specific design needs. Trusses must be engineered to hold extra weight as tiles weigh considerably more than asphalt shingles. Impact such as that caused by hail can break tiles, and you should have them inspected periodically for damage to prevent problems down the road. When installed properly, roof tiles are less likely than asphalt shingles to blow off in inclement weather.
Metal roofs are also gaining in popularity, partly due to the resurgence of the “Old Florida” architectural look, and also because of their durability. Some roofing companies are offering lifetime warranties for metal roofs, which is a very attractive feature. Metal roofs are also available in different colors to match your home’s design. Though the metal material itself reflects the sun’s rays, it has a low r-value because it is a conductor of heat, but dead air space and attic insulation can be utilized to increase energy efficiency. As you could probably imagine, noise can sometimes be an issue with rain or hail storms on metal roofs, but sound-deadening insulation can be used to mitigate this problem. Some metal roofs can become dented when hit by falling objects like hail, but some manufacturers offer a “no-dent” guarantee.
Plumbing Top Out
At this stage toilets and bathtubs will be set and the plumbing lines will be stubbed out. Tubs will usually be made of marble, fiberglass, or acrylic and this will be spelled out in the builder’s marketing materials. Jetted or “whirlpool” type tubs are usually available, and are especially nice in master bathrooms. Tubs should be covered with either cardboard or plastic during the remainder of the construction process as they can easily be damaged by a dropped hammer or similar accident.
You usually have a choice between elongated or round toilets. Also, “comfort” commodes that are a few inches higher than standard toilets for “ease of use” are usually an option. Check to be sure that the tubs and toilets that are installed are the color and style you have selected.
HVAC, which stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, will be roughed in at this time. Your air ducts, air vents, and air returns, which regulate the temperature throughout your home, will now be installed. Each room should also have its own air return. This is important because air returns keep your home’s air temperature balanced. In homes where this has not been done, you can often have as much as a ten degree difference in temperature from room to room.
Air Conditioner Size
Most people when comparing air conditioning units are overly concerned with tonnage, or how big the unit is. But in reality, the tonnage is something that has a point of diminishing returns, meaning that bigger isn’t necessarily going to give you better results. The local building codes will dictate the size, or tonnage that the A/C unit used in your home should be, based on the size of your house. The size of what will be installed might also be spelled out in your builder’s marketing materials or sales contract.
Here’s what is important. Your air conditioning unit will have what is called a SEER rating, or seasonal energy efficiency rating. Many older homes have A/C units with SEER ratings as low as 10. The higher the SEER rating, the better the performance (energy efficiency) of the unit. Most builders will let you upgrade the A/C unit so that you can get a higher SEER rating unit if you desire.
Electric Heat Pump
In all likelihood your heating system will be an electric heat pump, also not very popular up north. This system will use the same ducts as your air conditioner. Electric heat pumps are not very efficient in temperatures below freezing. At extremely low temperatures an electric heating element kicks in to help the system out. Up north that might be on constantly. But here in Florida, electric heat pumps are the most cost effective and efficient heaters you can have installed in your home. The temperature is rarely below freezing, allowing your heating system to run in its most efficient state most of the time.
Electrical, Phone, Cable and Security System Rough In
Now all of your electrical outlets, cable outlets, phone jacks, and the security system will all be wired in. There are certain minimum requirements for the number and spacing of electrical outlets. Most new homes far exceed these minimum requirements.
Located in the garage, utility closet or some other out of the way place in most new homes is what may be referred to as a smart box. The smart box is the central hub for all cable, phone, and high-speed Internet lines running into and throughout your home. Essential in today’s high tech world of networked computers and home electronics systems, with a little instruction you can have multiple computers networked throughout your new home, internet access in any room you choose, and high speed data flowing to your Tivo. You’d be taking a technological step backwards if you were to buy a new home today without this feature.
Well before this stage, preferably at the time of selections and before the builder submits for the permit if possible, you should let the builder know if you have any special outlet location requests. Otherwise, it will be a costly mess to have outlets moved or added later, when drywall has to be cut and removed to make any changes.
Think for a while about your living habits now. Do you currently watch television in the kitchen while cooking? If so, request a cable TV outlet in the kitchen. Like to surf the web on your laptop while laying in bed? Make sure there is a high-speed Internet connection near where your bed will go. I think you get the idea. Note that some builders will charge for this service and some will not agree to do it at all, but this is something you should ask about while shopping for a builder.
Special electrical outlets will be installed in your kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room, garage, and in any other indoor and outdoor locations where water might commonly come in contact with the outlet. These outlets, clearly marked GFI or GFCI for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, are safety devices designed to prevent electrocution.
At the first sign of trouble, such as water coming into contact with electricity, they are designed to shut-off or kick the breaker to that particular outlet and prevent you from being electrocuted. Make sure that whoever does your walkthrough with you, shows you how these operate and that they check to make sure that they are functioning properly.
One of the most popular options on new homes today is the security system. Whether for a personal residence or a part-time second home, it’s nice to have the peace of mind that a security system can offer. The security system is typically comprised of a base unit where the system is controlled from; one or more motion detectors; and sensors placed on doors and windows that alert you if one of them is opened. Other accessories include glass breakage sensors and carbon monoxide sensors. Make sure that all of your home’s smoke detectors are hard wired into the system, so that if one of them should detect smoke, you as well as the fire department, will be alerted. An intercom system can be integrated into most security systems, and video surveillance technology is also available at a much higher cost.
Just because your home has a security system, don’t sleep easy yet. You are not really protected until you have that system monitored by a security company. Probably the two most popular national security system-monitoring companies are Brinks and ADT. Ask your friends, family, and neighbors for suggestions on companies as well, as there are many other options available from lesser-known local companies. When you contact them they will send a representative out to your home to make suggestions as to the type of monitoring services that will suit you and your system the best.
Once you choose the company you wish to go with, you will sign a contract for their monitoring services. When an alarm “event” occurs at your home, whether you are there or not, their monitoring center will be alerted and they will contact the proper authorities.
The exterior doors, such as the front door and any side exterior doors will now be installed. They can be made of solid wood or a wood composite, metal, or more commonly these days fiberglass. Fiberglass is extremely durable, less likely to dent than steel, and easy to paint.
As mentioned earlier, any last corrections that need to be made to the framing before inspection will be done at this point.
Framing, Electrical, Plumbing, and Mechanical Inspections
Next, a whole slew of inspections happen. Typically, you won’t even be made aware of it if some aspect of the home fails inspection. But not to worry, the house will not proceed until everything that may be wrong with it has been corrected and re-inspected. Failed inspections happen, and it shouldn’t give you the impression that you are getting a substandard home. You should be thrilled that someone has been careful and diligent enough to catch any mistakes, to prevent problems for you down the road.
The outside of the home is now stuccoed, providing another layer of protection for your home to the elements. Stucco is basically a muddy mixture of cement, dirt, and water applied to the outside of the block walls of your home. Before the stucco can be applied to the house, a layer of sheathing and a wire lathe must be placed over any exterior wood framing, such as porch ceilings, to protect the wood and to help the stucco adhere. Blocks walls, however, can have the stucco applied directly to them.
Now the outside of the home will be painted the color you selected. Several builders in Florida, after having experienced never before seen water penetration through block walls during the tropical season of 2004, have started using elastomeric paint to help keep wind-blown rain from penetrating the outer shell of their homes.
It is highly recommend that you seek out a home builder using this type of paint, or have your home painted with it soon after you move in. The elastomeric paint is a “waterproofing” paint, not necessarily waterproof, that is applied and a factory representative will usually inspect the application to ensure that it was done properly.
Different types of insulation will now be placed in different parts of your home. For example, very thin foil insulation will be placed inside the exterior block walls, batted insulation will be placed between the studs of some interior walls and– if possible– in parts of the ceiling. The remainder of the ceiling will have blown-in insulation, especially in those areas that are hard to reach. Thick, fire rated insulation will also be placed between the garage and the interior of the home to form a fire barrier.
The effectiveness of the insulation to resist heat from entering the living areas of the home is measured in what is called an R-Value. In Florida, all builders and sellers of new construction homes are required to disclose to you what the R-value is of the insulation installed in the different areas of the home. This will most often be in your sales contract but it could be under a separate “insulation addendum” to the contract.
Some builders insulate the garage ceiling, and some do not. You should be able to find out from the builder’s marketing materials whether or not they do it. If not, and you plan to spend any significant amount of time working in your garage, I suggest you pay a little more to have insulation installed over the garage. It can make a big difference in the comfort of your garage, especially during the hot summer months.
Because insulation is such an important component in your new Florida home from both a safety and comfort standpoint, there will be an inspection to make sure the right type and right amount of insulation have been installed properly in the required places.
Soffit and Fascia
The soffit and fascia are aluminum or vinyl materials that are used to cover the eaves, or where the roof overhangs the outside walls of the house. The soffit is designed to prevent water and bugs from entering the home, while still allowing air to flow into and cool the attic.
The interior walls of your new home in Florida will most commonly be constructed of drywall, also referred to as “wall board.” The drywall will be nailed to the wood studs inside your home and the seams will be hidden by tape. The rooms of your new home are really taking shape now.
Drywall is typically less expensive and less durable than the plaster walls that you may have had or seen in older homes. Drywall is available in different thicknesses, the most commonly used thickness being ½ inch thick. Thicker drywall is generally preferred because each increasing level of thickness adds extra insulating, durability, and sound deadening properties. Also, thicker drywall, especially 5/8 of an inch or thicker, is easier to hang pictures on than ½ inch drywall.
Different types of specialized drywall are also available albeit at higher costs such as fire-rated drywall or sound deadening drywall. As with anything else, having the builder install thicker drywall or any specialized drywall will usually result in an increase in costs.
Over the first year or so in your new home, drywall cracks, and nail or screw pops may appear as the house is breaking in and going through a shrinkage process. Near the end of your initial warranty period, usually one year, you should have the builder repair these minor cracks and nail or screw pops.
After the drywall is installed but usually before it is textured, the windowsills will be installed. Most production builders these days are using cultured marble or solid surface windowsills, but some use real wood sills. Many experts prefer cultured marble or solid surface as opposed to wood because windowsills sometimes can get wet if you leave a window cracked open accidentally, and moisture and wood don’t go well together.
Your drywall job will not be complete without a layer of texture applied to give it some depth, added durability, and also to help hide any imperfections. Two of the most common types of texture being applied in Florida today are called “knockdown” and “orange peel.”
Knockdown texture can best be described as looking like splatter, while orange peel looks like–you’ll never guess–the peel of an orange. Looking through the builder’s model homes, speaking to the sales staff, or reviewing their sales literature will give you an idea of what types of texturing they use.
I briefly mentioned plaster walls before and if you prefer the look and feel of plaster, it can be applied to certain types of drywall. Just check with your builder for the ability to upgrade, and their willingness to do that for you.
At this stage a trim carpenter will go into your new home and install the baseboards, special moldings such as crown molding if offered by the builder, chair rails, and doorframes. Interior doors will also be delivered to the home around this time, but won’t be installed until after they are painted.
Your inside painting will be completed at this time. Make sure to request that two coats of paint be applied. Don’t fret if the paint does not look perfect at this point. There is still work to be done inside, and a final paint touch up will occur before your home is complete.
Most builders will offer you a choice of colors that you can choose from when you make your initial selections. Be aware though that some production builders do not allow you to choose, and only offer white. If this is the case, you’ll either have to paint the interior of the home the colors you want yourself, or hire someone to come in and do it for you.
One tip I can give you is that if you are hiring someone to do the work for you, they will usually quote you a lower price if there is no furniture for them to move or have to cover up. So if possible, have your new home painted before moving anything into the home.
Your garage door will be installed about this time. The garage doors for your home can be made of wood, fiberglass, or most commonly on production homes, steel. Garage doors are rated based on their “wind load” which is the amount of positive and negative pressure they can withstand.
Most people aren’t aware that roughly 80% of hurricane damage to a home starts with wind entering through the garage. This makes the garage door the most vulnerable part of your home when it comes to hurricanes, so you’ll want to make sure that the garage door on your home is sturdy and made to withstand high winds. This is usually accomplished with the use of heavier, sturdier door materials; door insulation; and many horizontal rows of steel bracing.
Specifications for your garage door were likely submitted with your house plans to the permitting office in order to certify that it is up to local code, and an inspector will verify that the proper door was installed when inspecting your home during construction. In most cases additional bracing can be added, just contact a garage door contractor in the area to come take a look and tell you what options might be available to you.
Ceramic tile is common in most high quality homes in Florida, at least in “wet” areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and utility rooms. Lower cost homes will substitute linoleum, which can be made to look like real tile. Available in different sizes, usually 12 x 12, 16 x 16, or 18 x 18, tile can be installed pretty much wherever you want, is extremely durable, and can be fairly inexpensive. It can also be very expensive, depending on your tastes and where the tile is made.
Imported porcelain tile from Italy will be more expensive than ceramic tile manufactured in the United States, but most untrained eyes won’t be able to tell the difference. Another option in higher end homes is travertine marble. In the end, the tile you choose to have put in your home will be a reflection of your personal taste and budget.
A quality tile job will have grout lines of consistent size, and there will not be any high spots or low spots in the tiles. A good tile layer will employ the use of a level to ensure an even application with no high or low spots. Once you move in to your new home it is recommended that you have your grout sealed, or do it yourself, to prevent stains. While the tile can easily be cleaned with water and a mop, grout is much tougher to get clean so it’s best to protect it from the start.
Lay out and pour driveway and sidewalks
Now your driveway, front and back patio, as well as any sidewalks, will be laid out and formed up. Once they are formed, they will be inspected to ensure they are the correct size and shape. Assuming they pass inspection, these areas will be poured with concrete.
With all of the components of the home, structure, driveway, sidewalks, and patios in place, a final survey will be conducted to ensure all components are within the setbacks where they are supposed to be.
Your irrigation system, which can be run off your main water system, a reclaimed water system, or a deep well, will be installed at this point. Be aware that with a well, there is a chance that if the well is not dug deep enough, high levels of sulfur in the water can discolor your exterior paint job over time. Typically, the deeper the well, the less paint discoloring sulfur will be present in the water, and proper depths of deep wells will vary from area to area.
The irrigation system is usually controlled by a timer box that can be manual or electronic, allowing you to set watering times, and setting the system to water certain days, while skipping others. Several Florida cities and counties are experiencing severe water shortages because of rapid growth and development, along with other factors. Therefore, restrictions on how often and when you are allowed to water your lawn are sometimes in place. Check with your city water department for more information on what restrictions might be in place in your area.
Any landscaping that is included with your home will be installed, following the installation of your irrigation system. Most builders include a basic landscaping package with your home, and some will give you the option to upgrade that package. Otherwise, you may want to add some more landscaping after you move in, since most basic packages can be pretty sparse.
In the case of custom, or even semi-custom cabinetry, the cabinet company will measure for those shortly after the drywall is in. While some minor corrections to cabinetry can be made in the field, a quality cabinet company will rely on accurate measurements at this stage to build your cabinets to exact specifications.
Cabinets range from entry level laminate cabinets to a step higher with thermofoil cabinets, which are essentially vinyl-covered particleboard, to faux wood cabinet doors with plastic or particle boards drawers and shelves at a step higher, to all wood cabinets at the highest end. Maple, hickory, oak, and cherry are the most popular types of wood cabinets and various stains and glazing such as cinnamon or pecan can be applied to each.
Again, just like most of the other important selections going into your home, the cabinets you choose will be determined by your personal preferences and most definitely budget. Be sure to put a lot of thought into your cabinetry, because if you decide you don’t really like it that much a few years down the road, it can be expensive to replace.
One simple way to save a little money without sacrificing design is to have upgraded cabinets installed in your kitchen, and have standard cabinetry installed in your bathrooms. This way, everyone can marvel at your beautiful cabinets in the place where most people tend to congregate, the kitchen.
Your kitchen countertops are one of the most used components of your new home. Your choices range from inexpensive yet functional laminates, to solid surfaces like Corian®, granite, and Silestone®. Again, just like other components in your home, the product you ultimately choose will be based on factors such as personal taste as well as budget. A laminate counter will usually arrive with your cabinets, while solid surface counters must be custom measured for after your cabinets go in. Because of this there is often a couple week delay between your cabinets being installed and the countertop installation.
Laminate countertops are made in a variety of colors, patterns, and textures. Laminate countertops are among the least expensive countertops available, yet many laminate countertops resemble the look of higher priced counters at first glance. Laminate countertops are not as durable as solid surface counters and can be cut or scorched easily, so you’ll need to always make use of a cutting board when working with knives, and hot pads when using hot pots or pans.
Corian®, invented by DuPont, is one of the most popular countertops available today and with good reason. It is extremely durable, nonporous (this makes it stain resistant), and with over 100 colors available, it can be used in a number of creative applications. Something you might want to think about is that some people decide to transition their solid surface countertops into their bathrooms as well, something you may not typically want to do with laminates.
While Corian® is extremely durable, care should still be used when cutting or cooking. Its cost far exceeds that of laminate counters. A typical kitchen will cost a few thousand dollars as opposed to a few hundred with laminate, but with the proper care and precautions, it should last you a whole lot longer.
Granite is a natural stone, quarried in several locations around the world. Available in a vast range of colors and patterns, granite’s use as a countertop surface is very popular, especially in higher-end homes. Because it is a natural stone, no two pieces will ever look exactly the same, allowing the homeowner to express their own sense of flair and uniqueness.
Being that it is a natural stone, granite is porous, and must be sealed regularly to prevent staining. Most experts recommend that this be done twice a year. Granite is known for its hardness and durability, but again, as is the case with other solid surfaces, it is not scratch or burn proof.
Silestone® is a nonporous solid surface material made mainly of quartz, the fourth hardest natural mineral. Harder and more durable than granite, Silestone® is scratch, stain, and scorch resistant. However, the manufacturer recommends that as with any other solid surface countertop, proper precautions against each of those be taken. Because it is nonporous, it does not need to be sealed like granite does.
Like each of the other countertop options, Silestone® is available in a variety of colors and patterns, and can be used in a variety of ways. Also, the company that manufactures Silestone® recently introduced Microban®, an antibacterial product built-in to the Silestone®. This helps to continually fight bacteria between cleanings. It should also be noted that previously mentioned DuPont has a similar quartz based countertop product called Zodiaq®.
Appliances are ordered
If you have not picked out your appliances by now, you better get started. At least some of them, like the range, dishwasher, and any built in microwave or wall ovens will be delivered around this time. Your builder will usually have you go to visit their supplier to have you pick them out, otherwise you might be stuck picking out your appliances from a catalog which really makes it tough. Your final appliances– refrigerator, washer and dryer– will usually come a little later.
Appliances might be one of the hardest items to pick out. You should do a lot of looking around at different makes and models before you decide. Appliances are usually available in white, black, bisque, or stainless steel. You should choose a color that coordinates with the rest of your kitchen.
This is when your faucets will be installed. Popular finishes include polished or antique brass, chrome and nickel. You will most likely have picked out the type and style of fixtures you want at your appointment with the builder’s decorator.
Mirrors and Shelving Installed
Your bathrooms mirrors get installed around this time. Mirrors range from standard flat mirrors, to more upscale beveled mirrors available in a variety of shapes. Some builders offer you a choice at your design meeting and some do not. If not, you can always have them changed out later.
Also, closet shelving, which is usually wire shelving in production homes, will now be installed. Some builders are offering the choice to upgrade to California® type closets, which provide a more useful and appealing shelving and hanging system customized to fit your needs. If your builder does not offer this but you just have to have it, once you move in just look up “closets” in the phone book and get some estimates.
Electrical and HVAC Trim
Your outlet covers and light switches will be installed, along with any light fixtures you have chosen for your home. Also, your air conditioning vents and return vents will be installed if they have not been already.
You might recall that when the insulation was installed, certain areas of your home’s ceiling may have gotten batted insulation. At this stage the rest of your home’s ceilings will get insulated with blown-in insulation. A large tube or hose runs from an insulation truck and the installer climbs into the attic and “blows-in” the rest of the insulation. They will usually apply it until there is at least a foot or more of insulation covering all areas.
Any hardwood flooring or carpet you have requested will be installed at this time. You will have picked out your flooring choices at your meeting with the decorator, and now you get to see how it finally looks installed in your new home. If you’re not excited yet, you should be. You’re almost home!
This is the last city inspection that your home will have. After it is complete, and assuming your home has passed, the city will then issue a Certificate of Occupancy (or “C.O.” in builderspeak), basically stating that the home is habitable and has been inspected to meet or exceed local building standards.
The painter will go back in and touch up any spots he might have missed, or areas that have been scuffed, nicked, or otherwise damaged as things have been delivered and installed and people have been working.
Up until this point, your home has been running on temporary power. Now the local power company will come out, remove the temporary power pole, and install an electric meter. A power company employee will check this meter each month to see how much power has been used, and the power company will use this information to calculate your bill.
With the home running on permanent power, all of the electrical functions of the home will be tested to make sure there are no shorts in the system, and make sure everything functions the way it should.
Install the rest of the appliances
With 99 percent of the work on your home complete, your final appliances will usually be delivered and installed. You will have a chance very soon at your final walkthrough to verify that these are in no way damaged, and that they work like they should.
Here the last one percent of work, which is often the most important, will be attended to. Either the superintendent or a walkthrough specialist will walk through your home examining it for quality finish and attention to detail. Anything out of order or not in tip-top shape will be taken care of.
After all construction work is done, a cleaning crew will go through the home cleaning it from top to bottom, mopping floors, vacuuming carpet, scrubbing toilets, and cleaning counters. After the cleaning it may be found that certain counters or tubs have been scratched during construction. If this is the case they will be buffed or otherwise repaired.
Last but not least, your builder will set a time for your walkthrough and closing.
For tips on how to conduct a new home walkthrough like a pro, as well as how to tackle all the steps leading up to the new home construction process (like choosing the right location, community, and home) pick up my new book, Pick the Right Place…