Whether you're building a house or planning some renovations, the number of products and materials to research can be overwhelming. You can get lots of ideas by watching Home HGTV, by visiting websites like Pinterest and Houzz or flipping through traditional magazines like Better Home and Gardens and Architectural Digest. The problem with all of these approaches is they focus on what are called finishes, the things you see when you look at houses. They don't educate you on the underlying building material choices for things you don't see, the ones that are hidden in the walls.
For example, when replacing siding, your biggest decision often isn't which type of siding to pick, and definitely not the color. This is your opportunity to add more insulation inside your walls by blowing insulation into the wall cavities or adding a layer of foam board insulation to the exterior of your house. Your heating/cooling costs are based on how tight the envelope wrapping your home is.
So when you're picking building materials, you want to consider all of these factors:
- How appealing is your home's curb appeal outside, and aesthetically pleasing to your inside?
- How energy efficient is your home when heating and cooling?
- How environmentally friendly is your house with respect to water usage inside, and don't forget about using native plants when landscaping.
- How good is your indoor air quality, which can affect your family's health?
- How much maintenance do your home's building materials need, and how soon will they need to be replaced?
Picking Building Materials Based on Visual Appeal
When you pick building materials for your home's exterior, you want to research a lot more than the appearance of the product in a showroom. Once you've picked your building materials, like asphalt shingles, the next decision is the manufacturers who offer the quality you want for a price that fits your budget.
If you have a limited budget, you're not going to research metal roofs which cost a lot more than asphalt shingles. You choice might be 3-tab versus architectural shingles, and then your shingle color which should compliment the color of your siding and trim. That's why the new online tools, like GAF's Virtual Home Remodeler (used to create 2 houses above), are so helpful because they let you try out different colors before placing your order.
How Building Materials Affect Home Maintenance
After visual appeal, most people shop for building materials based on purchase price. What they don't understand is there are many other cost factors for each product and material choice you make. Before I even moved into my new house in Arizona, I discovered the heating system wasn't working. We just got a new condenser (the most expensive part of a central air conditioning system) but home warranty company said they wouldn't pay for the hardware to connect the new condenser to the existing air handler (sounds like another article).
So let's review all the cost factors you should consider when evaluating different business materials:
- Cost of the building materials or products.
- Transportation costs to move these materials and products to your house, e.g. when you buy a new door or large appliance.
- Installation costs which include parts and labor if you're not doing the installation yourself, and if you are then you might need to invest in some additional tools.
- Monthly operating costs (electricity, gas and/or water), to run a refrigerator or heat/cool your home.
- Annual maintenance costs to have your furnace tuned up, or your home (wood trim, siding, etc) painted.
- Periodic repair costs needed due to normal wear and tear, harsh weather and/or neglected maintenance.
- Replacement costs when you have to replace a rotted window, a deck or hot water heater.
- And replacing building materials, means disposal costs and installation costs.
Building Material Choices, Even When You Don't See Them
Feeling overwhelmed? The building material choices when you can see them, are easier to understand than the ones hidden in your walls. There are numerous building material decisions you want to get involved in to save money, both operating costs as well as home maintenance and repairs.
- Roofing – Regardless of the roofing material you pick, it's the layers under the shingles that make the biggest difference. You need a water barrier, things like ice and water shield, and drip edge, that keep your home dry. When you replace your roof, always have them strip off the old roof and make sure there's no damage affecting the structural integrity below.
- Insulation – Siding and drywall on the inside of your walls are like pieces of bread in a sandwich. It's the building materials in the middle, the vapor barrier and insulation, that control the exchange of air between your home and the outdoors, affecting your comfort and energy bills. Always look for opportunities to upgade your insulation from new construction to remodeling and replacing your side with new products like foam insulation.
- Plumbing – PEX tubing is replacing copper in the US, and that's a good thing. It's cheaper than copper and easier (cheaper) to install because of it's flexibility. One morning my kitchen faucet had no water, indicating a frozen pipe. I peeked under the sink to confirm it was PEX piping and breathed a sigh of relief. By leaving the cabinet doors open and removing the stuff, the warm air was able to melt the blockage in a couple of hours.
- Wiring – Like other hidden building materials, we take the wiring in our walls for granted. That's changing though as we integrate home automation into more of our daily activities. It's not just the wires (or wireless) now, but also the software that allows various boxes to talk to each other, and let us control them from across the room, or through our smart phones.