So you’ve decided to build a house. What an exciting life event! All the builder upgrades will be awesome! But wait, what if I screw it up? What if I forget important details or my builder doesn’t have the designer’s touch? Should I build the largest house I can or should I build the nicest house I can afford? Well fear no more. I LOVE the building (and remodeling) process, have been through it many many times, and am here to help. Builder Upgrades: What you SHOULD and SHOULDN’T upgrade (because of the huge volumes of information I am sharing on this subject, this will be a mini series, so stay tuned for follow-up posts on what upgrades you shouldn’t do and what you may want to change that could cost you nothing). UPDATE: Read the 13 Upgrades You SHOULDN’T Do HERE.
Whether you are building a large custom-house in the suburbs or remodeling a classic row house or designing a new penthouse, doing things the right way on your dime can make or break your enjoyment of the home for years into the future. The last thing you want is a bunch of doubt and disappointment after you have spent thousands, even hundreds of thousands to build your dream home. The following are based on my recommendations in order to get the most bang for your buck. I like to get a step down from the largest house I can afford and include the upgrades that I can’t easily retrofit after I move in.
This post will focus on the Should’s:
- Add an extra garage if you have the room. Everyone has more to store than they think!
- Upgrade trim and moldings. It is not worth it to go back and remove all of the trim, replace it, caulk it, and paint it.
- Raise ceilings. I didn’t know this was an option when I built with a builder, but I wish I had. My 8 foot kitchen feels so much smaller than my neighbors 9 ft. This also applies if you have a basement. Because of the way heating and a/c ducting is in many houses, I strongly recommend 9 ft. minimum for a basement. In some areas after duct work it will be around 8. By raising the ceilings, your windows can also become taller bringing more light into the space.
- Add an exit door out the garage. This may work out to be the perfect place for your garbage cans, a dog door, or you could switch out a solid door for a half-light door with a window to add light to the garage.
- Add an operable window in the master closet. Being able to get fresh air and light in a master closet is so nice. We have a small slider window that is up about 7 feet off the ground. No one can see in, and I can’t see out, but my husband can open and close it easily and I only need to turn on the light at night (read about my master closet HERE).
- Add an outlet in the pantry. My pantry is where I keep my toaster oven, small shake maker, and other small appliances (even a Swiffer Vac). All can be plugged in at all times and don’t take up valuable counter space. With wireless printers, I even know people who keep their printer in the pantry. If you have an outlet, I promise you’ll think of something that can be neatly kept out of sight in your pantry (read about my pantry HERE).
- Add an outlet in desk cupboard. This is similar to the pantry. We have a power outlet as well as network, cable, and audio in my kitchen command center. I use it for charging phones, an electric pencil sharpener, upper cabinet lighting, phone plug-in for Pandora on home speaker system and battery chargers (read about my kitchen organization station HERE).
- Be sure to add a Christmas light outlet in the eves of your home. The outlet can be used for lights or heat tape if you live in a cold snowy climate. Be sure you have a light switch inside, then you can retro fit it to have timer later.
- Upgrade to three tone paint and have a white ceiling. This mostly applies to homes that have very high ceilings like in my family room (read about my family room HERE). I have gone ahead and painted my kitchen and basement stair ceiling. I am dreading painting the rest of my ceilings, especially where I’ll have to rent scaffolding!
- Granite counter tops may seem like a huge upfront expense. And they are. But, what are the chances that you will come up with an extra 5-10 k to install them after you move in. Do it before you sign your mortgage payments and wrap them into the home loan (read about my favorite granite HERE).
- Get the best lot you can. Some builders may give out incentives for choosing the least desirable lots or charge huge premiums for better lot locations. In most situations, I think it is worth it to pay the upfront fees for the better lot, EVEN if it means a smaller house. Our current home backs up to a park, which meant a larger price tag than other lots, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
- Extend wood flooring into high traffic areas. I know it can be pricey, but so is refinishing existing flooring to match a new section, or trying to find an exact matched to your existing wood after a few years have faded or darkened or is no longer in production. Wood floor hallways or family rooms are always desirable, plus, you can throw a rug down if needed (read about my sister’s wood floor HERE).
- A jetted tub in the master bathroom was a must for us. I know some find them disgusting or unused, but not us. I have my cleaning routines that work for us and we use ours at least 3 times a week, usually after a long day as a way to relax.
- Add a cable TV outlet in the master bathroom. This goes back to my previous bath reason. I like to watch a tv that is mounted on a plant shelf in my bathroom while I soak in the tub. I also enjoy watching the weather and daily news when I get ready in the morning. Just think about it as an option that doesn’t cost much if planned ahead.
- Add a window in basement bathroom. This is one that I am kicking my self about now. I wish that we had the builder put in a high slider window with opaque glass above our shower in the basement. This would have allowed for great ventilation and at least some natural light flow.
- Add can, puck or pot lights as often as possible. You may want to hire a lighting specialist to help you with this, but the more lighting on the more switches the more customization of light you can use to create a mood.
- Light switch for outlets. I love plant shelves, and nothing helps accessorize them like an outlet for a lamp or light and a switch down low for easy access. Depending on the space, I will decorate with a lamp, home-made light up sign, or Christmas lights for a nice glow like in my master bathroom. The switch makes all the difference.
- Delete cheap closet organizers. Our current home came with cheep particle board painted with stationery shelving. We had the builder completely delete all of these “organizers” and then went and purchased our own from Home Depot and Lowe’s. With an Ikea near by now, I could find a great system there as well. I love the melamine (sounds weird to say I love plastic) surface for all of my clothes. I also love the adjustable shelves and smooth rolling drawers that come with these systems. I also asked the painter to paint all of the closets the same color as the bedroom instead of the glossy trim paint. This makes the closet feel like an extension of room rather than a closet (read about my master closet HERE).
- Delete mirrors in bathrooms. This is another easy step to make a home look more custom. Simply ask the builder to NOT install any mirrors and then go shopping for framed mirrors from a discount store like TJMaxx or Ikea (read about my guest bathroom HERE).
- Extend the amount of brick and stone that you have on your home. Before construction begins is the best time to decide if you want to extend the brick or stone masonry on your home. Often the foundation may need to be poured differently or the windows framed out differently when working with these materials, so adding them later can be tricky.
- Future outdoor hot tub outlet. If you already know you plan on having a hot tub and know where you want to place it, have your builder or electrician add a 220 outlet to the outside of your house near your future location.
- A fire pit or BBQ natural gas line can easily be added now again, if you know where you eventually want to place them.
- 3 way light switches or lights that can be turned off in two places can be very helpful, especially in open floor plans. Think through your floor plan and how you may enter and exit rooms and hallways, and whether you may want two or more switches for lighting (read about my vintage crystal chandelier that has a three way switch HERE).
- Have your framer build braces for future ceiling fans. I am not generally a fan of the look of ceiling fans, BUT I have them in each of my children’s bedrooms. One study I read said that a fan can drastically reduce the chances of SIDS so my nursery was the first room to get one. During the first year of my son’s life, the fan was always on the lowest speed. Fans also help move air around and keep a space cool. The ones in our children’s bedrooms were easy to install, so we just asked the builder to brace for them in future (read about my son’s Indiana Jones room here) (read about my nursery HERE).
- Taller cabinets in kitchen. I don’t think I have ever heard someone say that they had too much storage space in their kitchen. Why not have the cabinets go all the way to the ceiling (read about a remodeled kitchen with TALL cabinets HERE)?
- Under cabinet lighting is not an easy or cheap DIY project. Have the builder manage this and install more under cabinet lights than you think. Mine has an off/low/high switch so I can control the intensity of the light. Don’t forget that the cabinet manufacturer will also be adding a piece of trim to hide the lighting so be sure that they are in on this upgrade as well (read about my kitchen HERE).
- Window well rock outs are awesome if you are lucky enough to have a basement. I don’t recommend them in the front of the house, but on the side or back of the house or where it makes sense for you, rocking out a window well can really open up a basement.
- Add a walk out from a basement. Again if you are lucky enough to have a basement, now is the time for a walk out to be installed. If you can’t afford it, or aren’t sure if you want one there, be sure to add a window at the height of the door that you may want. Then, a retro fit will be much simpler.
- Delete your mantle if the builder doesn’t offer one you like. Just have them attach a few 12X12 ceramic tiles with adhesive. Then when you find the mantle of your dreams, remove the tiles and install your own mantle (read bout my mantle HERE, HERE and HERE).
- Raise your fireplace and add a hearth. This is especially great in a two-story room to help give balance and scale to the room. Raising the fireplace usually doesn’t cost any money, but the hearth might be a small charge. When we have large gatherings our hearth serves as a perfect seating spot especially in the winter as a place to warm up by the fire. I also love a raised fireplace since you can see the flames and the fire over other pieces of furniture.
- Add a niche to recess the tv into and wiring for any future electronic devices.
- Wire for home audio and theater speakers. You don’t need to have the builder install their speakers, as along as the wiring is in place and pulled down a little through the drywall, the speakers can be installed anytime.
- Smooth walls. Seriously? People are still doing textured walls? Please consider all smooth walls. It makes decorating easier on so many levels (read about murals on smooth walls HERE).
- Skylight or Solatubes are a great addition especially in area’s without windows like an upstairs bathroom. These are not the easiest DIY and in order to not be liable for leaks, let your builder install this one.
- Add a disposal in all kitchen sinks. Why am I still scooping out all that gross food that my kids accidentally drop into the “wrong” side of the sink? I wish I had added a disposal to both sides.
- Install a trash compactor in the kitchen. I am shocked at how many people do not add a compactor to their kitchen. I LOVE mine. I take out the trash just once a week with mine. Sometimes I use it just for recycling, and other for trash, either way it is a MUST for me.
- Include a recycle drawer similar to a trash drawer. If you use a trash compactor for trash, a specific can for recycling can help clear up the clutter without having to walk it all the way outside every time you drink a “cold pop”.
Whoa, that was a lot of info, but wait I still have two more posts coming soon: Upgrades you SHOULDN’T do and Change Orders that probably won’t cost you anything!
If you are planning on building or remodeling and find this list overwhelming I can help. I do consulting on house plans. Send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set something up. My rates start at $300 for up to 4000 square feet. I will send you a detailed list of suggestions to make your home flow smoothly, easy to decorate, and full of designer touches. And, depending on your builder, I could save you a lot of money! Our builder charged $100 for each change order once the home was under construction.
Did I miss anything that YOU would upgrade? Tell me about it in the comments below!