37 Builder Upgrades You SHOULD Do

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.

13 Builder Upgrades You Should NOT Do

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.

37 Upgrades You Should Do When Building or Remodeling a House

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”.

What Builder Upgrades Should I Do?

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 amanda@burlapanddenim.com 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!

Linked Up: Funky Junk Interiors, Tatertots & Jello, Home Stories A2Z



  • CENTRAL VAC. Even if you can’t afford to purchase the entire system, you should at least consider having your builder wire/prep for it is during the construction of your new home. You can always add the equipment (hoses, attachments, etc.) later. This will pay off in a HUGE way when you sell your home.

    • I do wish I had added Central Vac. Not really for the vacuum, more for the places you sweep and it sucks the dirt right under the cabinets…I really like those. The hose from the vacuum always seems like a pain, but that is just me.

      • Central vacs are a big plus in our area. We absolutely love ours and if you have the vac sock they don’t damage the walls. I grew up with one. I had to get ours fixed and it was better than buying a new vac. the warranty on ours was great as well.

        If a house that I was looking at buying had at least rough in for the vac it would be a big plus for me.

    • As a housekeeper, I always hated central vacs. The hose was too long and difficult to unclog. They are never as good as a good vaccuum. Ihated dragging the long hose from room to room. At least with a vaccuum, I could roll it from one room to the next.

      • I am not a big fan of central vac. I also find them hard to take from room to room with out scratching aloud the walls and corners. Eventually they get old and break down and people just get a regular vac since it to expensive to fix.

  • I found this article so interesting (arrived from pinterest) that I’ve added you to my rss reader. Eagerly awaiting the “upgrades to NOT pay for” sequel.

  • Direction of your home. We live in a place that snows a ton we like our home to face the south easier shoveling

    • Kourney,your right! If you live in a heavy snow zone or really steep hill, that is critical! Thanks for adding to the list.

      • *you’re right*

        • ***You’re a person who needs a hobby or a girlfriend.***

  • Thank you. We will be following for the other articles. We are starting a redo of our entire house.. This week is a new roof and a new solar heating sustem for the pool.

    Next will be all new windows.

    The interior remodeling and finally exterior.

    We figure we should be done by 2020, (Maybe)

    Thanks for this help.

    B & L

  • Can’t wait for the post on what not to upgrade with the builder. This was a fantastic read!

  • I have always heard that you should Get the nicest pad for your carpet. Nice soft carpet is great put if you still feel the concrete underneath it really doesn’t matter you will not want to sit/lay on it.

    • Aleece, I’ve heard the same thing about the carpet pad. Excellent suggestion. My “upgraded” carpet disintegrates evey time I vacuum so even a nice pad wouldn’t have helped me :)

  • great list! I would add- a covered porch for the backyard and requesting they leave trees in the back or at least plant a few for you! Living in a hot climate, we can not enjoy the backyard because we have no shade back there! We go through the struggle of buying an expensive umbrella every year and trying to keep trees alive. I wish we would have just let them build us a covered porch with lights and ceiling fans! :)

    • Oh, a covered porch is a good one. We plan on building a pergula on our deck this year to help shade the west side of our house! Trees are a huge help too. Thanks for adding to the list!

  • I’m so glad I found this article on Pinterest as we are building a home in FL and have our first plan review session next week and then we go to the design studio. Any suggestions on cabinet colors for kitchen and bath?

    • Elise, if you are looking for classic-then you can never go wrong with white. For a more current look then a light gray can look fabulous too especially if you add some classic marble. Either white or gray can go with a vintage or modern look. Enjoy building!

  • Totally with you on the smooth walls! When I bought my house, the previous owners had used a paint that they added sand (or whatever gritty stuff they use) in the living room. Even after 3 coats (1 coat tinted primer and 2 of paint color) it is still very slightly noticeable if I run my hand over it – maybe because I know it’s there. In their defense, I believe they expected to be in the house for a long time. I haven’t done anything in the powder room – they decoupaged it with get this… brown paper bags.

    • Oh no, Jenner, sounds like your previous home owners were real DIYers. That can be a tricky place to move into and update.

  • Electrical outlets on both sides of the front door so when decorating with lights, you don’t have to run an extension cord in front of the door. I also have dormer windows in my attic with outlets by them powered by a switch in the foyer. I keep an electric candle light plugged in to them in each window and turn them on for Christmas along with my other Christmas lights. I also have plant shelves with outlets, but the electrician forgot to connect them to an outlet down below. Grrr! I use a remote switch up there. I wish I had an outlet in mantel for Christmas lights, too. Can you tell I love to decorate for Christmas?!

    I also recommend pocket doors in bathroom closets and any other place where a swinging door is inconvenient!

    • Looking for feedback on the 8ft-9ft ceiling. We are planning on having vaulted ceilings in our new home and we currently have them in our existing home……….builder pointed out that we could save some serious money in materials if we stay with 8ft ceilings. Now we think that our walls/ceilings are wonderful with the vault, however we are going to have a zero entry home, so wondering if it will seem like a closed in space. just looking for input……….

  • What is a window well rock out? I can’t find any information on it.

    • Kayleen, A window well rock out means that in place of inserting a “window well” large rocks or boulders are carefully placed on top of each other and then you can plant plants between the rocks.

      • Can you share a picture of what this is?

  • I’m with you, I wish I had 9′ ceilings and taller kitchen cabinets and I’d add tile shower to the ceiling.

  • Wow! Must be nice to be rich! Jeez lol. Hell of a “must” list.

    • Em, not really a “MUST” list, just a should. Think of it more as a “should do now or pay more later” kind of a list. And rich? Compared to some yes, most no. Most of the list are DIYs so it’s more of a how much are you willing to do yourself?

      • yes, if you can have disposals in ALL your kitchen sinks and can wire your home with a theater sound system you are wealthier than most. And almost none of these are DIY. Nearly all the suggestions were things to tell your builder. Just keep it real and at least own it.

        • Whoah Betsy! This list is for people building or remodeling a home and is supposed to be BUILDER upgrades they should sign up for. Most of these I DID do myself with the help of my rockin’ husband. As for wiring your home for a theater sound system? That costs about $150? There are a lot of tutorials to do that yourself, and trust me it is easier done before the drywall is put up. And the disposal in all the kitchen sinks? I only have one but has two sides. A disposal in each side is ideal. Friends of mine have a “prep” sink and I’m only suggesting they add one there as well. Cheer up :)

      • If you think you are not wealthier than most with your jet stream tub, nine foot ceilings, and master closet window, than you’re not very aware of the world in which you live.

        • Denise, wealth is all relative. Relative to where you live, how you live, what you buy, and others. I am grateful for everything I have and try to make the most with what I have earned or been given. I wish you the best.

          • While the anger and rudeness is completely unnecessary, I have to agree with Betsy and Denise. While wealth may be relative, to compare yourself on a global or even a national level, if you can afford these things, you ARE wealthy- extremely wealthy. Perhaps you’re no millionaire, but let’s be honest, the average American cannot look at even a $150 upgrade without seriously considering if it’s worth the cost.

            There is nothing to be ashamed of for being wealthy. I’m happy for you that you are! But I think to say you aren’t wealthier than most of the world is simply a fallacy.

          • Pat, I’m not sure how this entire post got warped into a person’s wealth. I was really just trying to give people suggestions about the best places to spend or not spend money on when building a house. And trust me, I am grateful for every penny I have. My family has worked very hard for what we have and have been blessed immensely.

          • What is with all the nasty Nellies???? You took the time to build a comprehensive list and I thank you. These whiners need to remember what Thumper’s Mom used to say.

          • If somebody is building a home, it means they do have money. Not necessarily “wealthy”. If you have $300k to build a new home, she’s only giving options that may cost a few thousand more that will save you time, money and hassle in the future! Quit ripping on Amanda. I’m not “wealthy”, but I found myself writing some of these down! If you are broke, you probably shouldn’t be reading her article on what upgrades to do to your newly built home! Just sayin….

        • I’m not sure why all these people are wrapping this around wealth either, did you all just come here to knit pick?… All of her suggestions are wonderful! We are just starting the building process and this article was exactly what I was looking for… We are on a budget and this makes it so much easier to think about the different costs of things and what’s important to our family..good job Amanda, and don’t let their rudeness get to you :) thanks again

          • Amanda, you’ve done such a great job, when building a home (yes on a budget! and yes we are fortunate to be able to) it’s GREAT to get feedback about what others feel is and isn’t good and why. All of the grouches out there trying to turn this into a jealousy contest should think more about helping the world become a richer place than harassing those who have been successful. GO AMANDA!

  • Upgrade your insulation! We put in soundproofing through out the house and upgraded the insulation in the garage and the ceilings through out the home – what a difference it makes. And it is NOT something you would want to retrofit after you move in. Well worth the cost in the savings we get from lower heating and cooling bills~

    • Jan you are right! When we finished the basement of our house we added insulation in the ceiling and it has really helped keeping the home theater sound from rumbling the main floor.

    • This is a great tip, I’m considering a build that the master bedroom is near the garage with no separation. This completely resolves that issue! Thanks!!

  • Dual coax cable lines to every TV. Even if you never use them, someone who buys your house may want a satellite dish, and might need them. It also gives you flexibility if you want to run an antenna to your TVs.

    • Patrick, I couldn’t agree more! Those runs are so easy when the walls are open. In one house I even videoed the open walls incase I needed to find stuff later once the drywall was up.

  • We’re in the process of building a house and I built a paired home 3 years ago with a large national builder. I agree with almost everything on your list except the walk-out basement. Some building sites warrant a walk out basement, but if you can have your outdoor living space and yard directly off your main floor, you’re more likely to use it. I think it is a pain in the butt to always have to walk down a flight of stairs from the patio to the yard, especially for kids and dogs. Plus your outdoor living space is more secluded if you aren’t entertaining on a raised deck off the main floor. I agree with the other commenter about the direction of the lot. We live in Colorado and prefer to have our house face north and have good sunny southern/western exposure for the back yard. It makes the front more icy, but it is worth it to have a garden and warm yard.

    • I totally get it Anne. It depends on your situation, but I kind of feel we have the best of both worlds with 1/2 of the basement above ground and only 1/2 a flight of stairs to get to the back yard. Good luck with your current house!

  • Add an outdoor water source on an elevated deck and run the gas line to the elevated deck, that way you can have the gas grill off the kitchen and no need for propane tanks and you can water your deck flowers without dragging the hose up from the ground level.

    • Cindy, Brilliant! I love both of those. We have a drip system for our planters and have them running up to the raised deck but the hose is a great idea. As for the gas line, I kind of wish I had added that just for a fire pit! Thanks for adding to the list.

  • I’m sorry – did I miss the upgrades that will improve energy efficiency and comfort while reducing energy bills?

    • Carla, What specifically would you do?

    • Hi Amanda, we just recently signed our purchase agreement on a new build and one thing we are still throwing around for energy efficiency is foam insulation in the attic, and really anywhere you can get it. Keeps heating and cooling costs down like crazy.

      I am so blessed to have found this blog since this is our first go round with building. Helps put things into perspective for me as we head into our design studio appointments. Can’t wait to she this with my hubby. Also, all you negative nellies, just because someone might possibly be a slight bit better off than you might be financially doesn’t mean you need to be rude to them. Encourage and congratulate people in their adventures. It feels much better to be positive than negative.

  • Hi, great ideas and yeah some are expensive, but worth it from the start – on our first build we didnt do any upgrades and it cost us far more in the end to redo everything we wanted!

    We are currently renovating an 70′s house and one thing we are doing is putting in a piping system to run wires for electrical and speakers. We reinsulated – the foam, so when we rewired they suggested we place 2″ pipe around the house to run whatever wires we wanted, that way if there are any future wiring issues, its easy to re-run them.

    I agree with the 9ft ceilings – they are a a must – especially for re-sale!

    • Tammy, Great idea with the 2″ pipe! We put pipe under all of the concrete like under the driveway and then another behind our tv spot in the basement over to our media storage room because who knows what kind of cables may be needed in the future! Thanks for your thoughts Tammy!

  • Loved this! Want more!!

  • This was an interesting read. We built our home 9 yrs ago. Some I wish I would have done, others we are fine without. Depends on how your family works. Some that we wanted and didn’t do…. the builder put on an astronomical price tag on. HUGE! That deterred us from doing them because we knew how much it really cost. Can lights that we wanted… well over $100/can. My husband works for an elec. wholesaler and we know how much it really costs. Builder would not work with us on the electrical/electrician to do the work. Adding to the 3rd stall in the garage, our builder wanted several thousand for a few extra feet. Builders make a killing on upgrades. Make sure to have a wish list of what you can and can’t live without.

    I would add, check the kind of windows they use. If you are in a climate where it is cold, do your research. Nine year old home, and we are replacing ours as they are not energy efficient.

    I would also say a split trunk system for the ductwork/heating for a two story home. The heat is more evenly distributed. Something I wish we would have done and didn’t.

    • Michelle, I agree with your tips! Windows can make a big difference and I also wish I had looked into splitting my main and second floor HVAC. Thanks for sharing!

  • How about a tankless water heater? It’s totally worth the upgrade when you can take a 20+ minute HOT shower and not lose hot water EVER!! :) The hot water is instant upstairs in the showers–ahhh, totally worth it. It’s tempting to stay in longer than you need to! I can also run my washing machine and dishwasher at the same time then turn around and give my son a bath and get hot water immediately. I did that tonight after my shower. Most hot water heaters would’ve been pooped since I was using a hot cycle on my washing machine as well.

    • Lori, I looked into it a few months ago when our water heater went out but everything I read steered me away because of cost. They do sound amazing, and I am envious that you have one :)

  • We are currently building our home and we did lots of research by asking others their likes and dislikes in their homes. That helped us a bunch. Some of these tips here are great, we decided to add everything structurally that we wanted because the other stuff could be added at a later date. We did the third car car garage but my husband is a car nut and we have dirbikes and ATV’S so we added a 5 ft bumpout, a rear entry door and, 6 extra plug in’s in the garage. We added a floor outlet in the living room since it’s an open concept, vaulted every ceiling possible, moved door in laundry to allow for deep freeze, added gas stub off back covered patio, I also put an outlet in my pantry but it for my portable central vacuum system. KAREN, I wanted one installed in my new home by they wanted $4000, and my portable one is less messy and I can take it anywhere and there are NO cords!!!!! For less than $150

    • Kelli, thanks for sharing all of your upgrades! I love the 3rd car garage AND 5ft bumpout. I wish we had done a bumpout since we have SOOOOO many tools, bikes, and projects in the garage. And I’d love to know more about a “portable central vac” is that code for a regular vacuum?

  • A water faucet on each of the 4 corners of the house.

    The builder will usually only do 2 water faucets (water bibs), one in the front yard and one in the back yard. Even if you don’t have huge yards, it is really nice to have a hose close to what you need to water – - and not drag hoses across the driveway.
    It is a very cheap upgrade when we were building – - like $45 each (14 years ago).

    • Nancy, Great suggestion. We had the two builder faucets and then added two ourselves when we installed our sprinkling system. We love having four faucets!

  • Wonderful list. We are 5 weeks away from closing on our dream house that we designed from the plans up. Most of what you listed we did. The floor outlet in the family room when you have open concept is a big one for me. I also put outlets in my pantry, and several key closets around the house (printer, cordless vac, electric razors, etc). We added house bibs to all 4 corners of the house and one on the deck. Also made sure we had plenty of outside outlets for Christmas lights. We have a 2 car garage on the front (side entry) with a single car on the side – and have a walk through between the two. We also asked that the 2 car garage be made a few feet wider to allow getting in and out of the cars on either side much easier. The laundry sink in the garage is going to be a huge plus so my husband can wash up some after working in the yard or on the cars, for bathing the dogs, etc. We spent a lot of time with our plans, figuring out how we planned on living in the house and then walked through with our builder to determine the placement of light switches and extra outlets. I agree with doing the hardwoods up front – much easier than trying to match later, and in the end will be cheaper. Granite, Granite, Granite! Not just in the kitchen. Upgrade your bathrooms too – totally worth it. My husband had tubing put in that runs from above the fireplace to the built ins next to the fireplace, so that he can easily run the wires from the DVR, DVD, etc to the TV and keep the components all hidden. We placed several TV outlets (along with power) at higher levels in several rooms to allow for mounting the TV on the wall without running the cords down to the regular outlets near the floor. We also have a couple rooms where the components will be in a closet on the other side of the wall so they are out of sight, and put the power/cable in those closets for that. Many of the things we wanted, the builder did not charge us for (extra outlets, cable, etc). Also, if you know what you want and can’t find a builder that has a floor plan that fits your needs, don’t be afraid to look at custom. We always thought custom homes were for the rich (and famous), and were thrilled when out realtor introduced us to our builder. He has a small neighborhood he’s doing custom homes in ranging from $250K-500K – and we got so much more for the money than we would have with a big builder that only gives you a small bit of room for customization.

    • Wow Tammy! Sounds like you thought of everything! I’m sure you’ll love your house, especially after really thinking through all the details. And a custom home is a great way to go, especially when you are so detail oriented. I’d love to hear updates and photos as you go.

  • Loved this!!! I only wish I would have seen it about 8 years ago when we were building our house. We built what we could afford at the time and now I have so many regrets….lots of woulda, coulda, shouldas!! I never plan on leaving this house, but hopefully in a few years we will be able to do some major remodeling! I couldn’t agree more on the higher ceilings! I would LOVE a mudroom too! Also, just say no to oak & brass! I love the curb appeal of our cape cod home, but the inside is pretty much plain ol’ builder grade! :)

    • Oh Katie, I love cape cod styled exteriors! Instead of a major remodel, I like having my house constantly in project mode…ha ha.

  • I love the suggestions. We bought a foreclosure and basically remodeled the whole house. Luckily, my son is an electrician and he installed can lights in the front room (there were no ceiling fixtures) and under and over cabinet lighting in the kitchen which I absolutely could not live without! I bought the mirrors for my main bath at Hobby Lobby on 50% off and it perfectly matches my new vanity. I love your idea of two garbage disposals. I would also add outlets to the kitchen island if you have one. Great list!

    • Gaela, sounds like you are hooked up with your son! Have fun with your foreclosure, I’m sure you are doing a fantastic job.

  • I have moved several times and perhaps one major thing that we found an love is to, if possible, have a drain in your utility room. This helps with keeping the room clean as well as helps in the event of a flood from the washer. A drain in the middle of the floor in the garage also helps to make washing out the garage so much easier!

  • We’ve built twice and are working on our3rd set of plans. Great list. I would say regarding the mirrors, go with built in medicine cabinets so nice to have the extra storage. Also, pipe for the central vac even if you aren’t interested in investing that much, it can be a great selling feature . Go tankless on water heaters. Our current house has 2 hvacs and 2 water heaters one for either side of the house (another option would one for each floor). Don’t get crazy with wacky design ideas, someone is going to have to sale that house someday and you never know it could be you. Keep it normal.

    • I love medicine cabinets too. I’d suggest framing it out and then you can add it when you want or when you find the perfect one to match your decor. Thanks for your suggestions!

  • GUTTERS! I never thought to include this in our house because the state I grew up in (Pennsylvania) every house had gutters but not every state has gutters as a building requirement. Living close to the coast in North Carolina it rains A LOT and North Carolina is not a state that requires you to have them. Within the first few months of us living in our NEW home all of our flowerbeds were washed out and any and all concrete turned green. We later installed our own to keep the cost down and it was a huge trial and error period because they continued to leak! We didn’t build our house but it was a new construction when we bought it and there are a few things we would’ve done differently and I would have absolutely adding gutters into our closing! I also would have added linen closets in all of our bathrooms. With our split floor plan it would be a huge help to have a linen closet in either the bathroom or the hallway on that side of the house.

    • Rachel, Gutters are an interesting add. They are no required here in Utah either, but I do love having them. And can you ever have enough linen closets? I think not, love your thoughts.

  • Other minor items:

    a) Paint you entrance closet a flat bright color – Get rid of builders flat white.

    b) Change all lights in house to LED, many have remote & Color control features

    c) Do not use eggshell style paints on your walls, always go for the flat style paints.

    d) install wireless video surveillance fed into your smartphone.

    e) Make certain that floor tiles (in kitchen) install all the way to the walls and not to when the floor cabinets begin.

    f) Hard wood flooring should 3/4″ thick, to endure multiple sandings.

    g) All water feeds should be at least 5/8 ” not the 1/2 “”.

    h) Use a good quality water shut off vale at the main input and by the hot water tank. The cheap rotaries always fail when you most need them.

    i) Basements are not made to store old junk and crap. Get rid of it, ASAP.

    j) Make certain builder leaves enough electrical switches on box, for future needs.

    k) Install biometric door locks at all main doors.

    l) Remember, if you are doing it, do it right. Its lightly more expensive but well worth it.

    good luck!!

    • Stuart, I agree with all of your suggestions EXCEPT B. I can’t stand LED’s. Thanks for sharing all of your thoughts, I know my readers will love them!

    • Great list Stuart! But I’d have to ignore #C. With children, daycare, and grandchildren I love having eggshell finish on my walls. To me, they look Matte enough and yet they stay much cleaner and I can scrub a spot off of them if I need to.

  • Another thing I think is a must as a nanny is dimming lights in children’s bedrooms! Makes it easier. May not be something needed to add at the beginning but I know the bosses have it in this house and they’re getting it in the new one! Just something to think about for the kiddos!

    • Great idea Sophia, I’m personally OBSESSED with dimmers. I add them after I move in, it probably depends on how much your builder charges.

      • I love dimmers too but someone told me they emit dirty energy (EMI)?

  • Love all of these ideas! Definitely all good advice! Our builder included about 90% of the list and list additions below so choosing a good builder with an excellent reputation would be my #1 suggestion! The things that we paid extra to upgrade were a larger back patio, a sidewalk from the driveway to the back patio, tankless hot water, upgraded to professional level appliances, nicer lighting package (not necessary but I was particular about all of my lights coordinating), upgraded carpet pad, extra outlets in the garage, several additional can lights beyond the many included ones, and a ceiling fan on the covered back porch. Specific to our region – tornado alley, we installed hurricane straps every approx. 3 ft. (only cost $300 for whole house) tying the walls to the roof which upgrades our house to being able to withstand an F2-F3 tornado (150+ mph winds and 95% of all tornadoes) and a generator switching panel in case we lose power (common in both severe storms and ice storms here) – we plan to eventually add a whole house Generac system. The one really dumb thing we didn’t do was add a garage door opener to our 3rd garage bay. It only cost $150 for the unit and installation – so cheap and so silly not to put it in. We ended up getting a much nicer opener on the main door and moved the more basic model to the 3rd bay but my husband had to install it. That would be my other huge piece of advice, don’t sweat the small stuff. If you think you even MIGHT want it, go ahead and do it. Most experts recommend planning about 10% of your purchase price for upgrades. We ended up spending less than 5% with all of our upgrades so it can be done if you keep an eye on things.

    • I have a tankless water heater at my beach house and love that I don’t have to worry about running out of hot water before all of my guests have showered and the dishes are done. However, be aware that they require periodic maintenance to clean filters, etc. and are not practical in electrical outage prone areas. No electricity = no hot water, even with gas fired units. I haven’t had to fix mine yet (been three years), but it might be expensive, as these are complex equipment with a circuit board inside. My plumber is not a fan. I’m putting a large, highly insulated tank water heater in the retirement home I’m building on his recommendation. (He is a very experienced Master Plumber.). You have to drain the sediment from these periodically, but this is relatively inexpensive self-maintenance compared to my tankless system. We have frequent outages due to ice storms. We run our pump off a generator and the hot water in the tank will last a day or two because of the insulation.

  • I only have 1 – sensor light in the pantry.

  • I’m in heaven with your builder Do’s and Don’ts lists! Thank you so much! Have you had a chance to write your tips for Change Orders yet? :)

  • I never thought to raise the ceilings. This blog has so many good tips! My husband has lots of really tall family that would love this addition to a new home.

  • My mom always recommended to put in marble windowsills, because it makes cleaning a breeze. We are in the beginning stages of a custom build, which is to be a large multi-family abode (my hubby, myself, and 2 kids as well as my parents on the other side.) Some things we have asked our builder for are an electrical outlet in the floor for the living room, built in shelving for the shower, added bookshelsves and closets in hall dead space, and fully covered patios (backyard, off upstairs game room, and off upstairs master bedroom on our side.) Hubby is technically savvy and will be running all of the cable (he agrees with the other commenter about all outlets being coax and Cat6) and also plans to run speaker wire throughout the house. We have a butler pantry in the kitchen, as well as an overly large room to be used as products for resale in our salon as well as pantry overflow. We are asking them to run a gas line for a fire pit later, as well.
    LOVE all the ideas, and I can’t wait to check back for more.

    • The marble windowsills are a great idea, as is the electrical outlet in the floor especially with laptops and electronics these days. You are full of great ideas, hanks for sharing!

    • My builder suggested marble window sills. At first, I didn’t think I’d like them, but they really are a great idea, especially if you have plants on the window sills.

  • We find that having faucets or water source on each side of the house is great for watering flowers cleaning the air conditioner etc… also we have installed outlets on all sides of the house, really handy for using the trimmer or putting up XMas lights… it’s a must if your remodeling or building a new home.

  • We are building a house in NC. The price of the custom cabinets the builder strongly wants is very high. I want to go with semi custom cabinets. Any opinion on who is right? This is our last home and we want to live there as long as possible. We are in our 60′s, but husband still works with no plans to retire. Opinions?

    • I’d go with the semi custom cabinets in a heartbeat! If you can get the look you are going for, I bet they’ll be perfect.

  • Put electrical outlets inside the bathroom cabinets next to the vanities. You can keep your blow dryers, curling irons, straighteners, etc. plugged in and install wire holders on the insides of the doors to hold them. Then you never have to have wires strung out across your counter tops.

  • Upgrade your HVAC Equipment from “builder standard” too often we see cheaper hvac equipment being installed in brand new homes and it doesn’t last or causes issues within the first 1-3 yrs.

    As a home owner research on your own and let your builder know what YOU want!

  • i have a qus. we are building a house but the builder told they cant upgrade anything.. my qus is can i add extension gas line to my patio? after i move there?

    please reply

    • Yes Sham, you can add it after you move it, it’ll just cost you more. If you can add it before you landscape, that should help keep the cost down if they need to put the pipe in the ground. If you have an unfinished basement, it should be a simple add. Just call an HVAC company and they can help you.

  • Geothermal!!! Worth every penny! ;)

    • Interesting, thanks for the tip Cassie, I have to admit, I don’t know much about geothermal.

    • love my geothermal. but make sure you know your area’s electric rates. I have 35 windows and doors., great design – but should have paid up front for better windows, extra insulation, and personally followed up on how the workers were caulking. if you can afford solar roof shingles or panels
      do it

  • […] cabinetry and features that are most meaningful to you and your family. According to an article by Burlap & Denim, there are certain builder upgrades that pay when you having a new home […]

  • This post (and comments) was SOOO helpful! We are planning to build next year and I’ve just compiled down a huge list now from your post. Thanks so much!!!

  • When my friend built her first house (and then second, then third) she had the contractor put drains in every room that had water, the bathrooms, laundry kitchen, etc. She hid the drain by very slightly sloping the floor so that any water on the floor would drain under a cabinet. She had the cabinets either raised to look like furniture, or had the moulding slightly cut to accommodate the draining. This has proved to be a very smart investment! Think of over flowing toilets, washers, and the time the water heater breaks! She has saved her flooring in other rooms time and again. (My water heater broke and the water flooded my house so incredibly fast every room had to have the carpet pulled up!)
    She also had “Dutch Doors” put on all the children’s bedrooms so that the door could be both open and shut, which helped to keep dogs, toddlers, others in the hall while baby slept, or other children played.
    Each of my three married kids have dedicated “play rooms” near their family room, essentially a small bedroom with French Doors, that the kids can keep all the toys in, play to their hearts content, yet keep the mess in one area. The French Doors allow the noise to stay in the room while allowing mom or dad to keep an eye on the play.

    • This is a great idea! There are newer, better looking linear drains out now that might be useful if you don’t want to direct the water toward your cabinets. They come in different finishes and grill styles. Much more attractive than traditional round drains.

  • GREAT ideas here, I’ll definitely keep these in mind for my future house. One idea similar to the trash compactor that I’d like to share is to put a direct little window with a swinging door from the kitchen to the garage, where the trash is. Obviously this won’t work for every home design, but if your kitchen and garage (or backyard – wherever you keep your garbage can) are adjacent, then this makes it where you NEVER have to take the trash out!

  • We are just starting the design process in our dream home. We have never built before and love your list. Thank you!!

  • Hi all, GREAT comments post, THANKS. Just wanted to add: Upgraded venting in bathrooms that are quiet. Also to make usre that the oven vents to the oustside (not re-circulated air). Lastly, the builder grade toilet bowls are horrible and small. I always upgrade to a better quality & my wife appreciateds the quiet lids.

  • It may not be a major upgrade for most. But for us, it was great! Depending on what climates you are in, having a built in humidifier system put in your home can be a great thing. If you have a fire place in your home, this would be a great addition since they dry out the air tremendously. If you live in cold climates, its also great for winter to help with dry air. For us it was a health addition, if your prone to sinus infections dry air doesn’t help, having this has decreased them by far.

    • Great point Franki, some wood floors are really helped by humidifiers too, especially if you install a tropical wood in a dry climate.

  • Love the list! Will be a long time till we can use it but I love to dream. I can’t imagine having to have a builder plan and trying to work with the builder. My husband is a carpenter and I grew up with my dad a carpenter and handyman and he taught me a little bit of everything so we could do everything ourselves except for all the codes and inspections. Love all the ideas in the comments also.

  • Two things we did during the building of our house was prewiring for a security system before the drywall went in, and pretreating for termites when the foundation was poured. This is especially important if there is new construction in the area. New construction can disturb termite nests and they migrate to the closest source of food. This happened to us at our old home. We had no termite problems at all until a new house was begun on the vacant lot next door. We moved to a newly developing neighborhood, did the pretreat and never had a problem.

  • The only big one I disagree with is the jetted tub in the Master Bathroom. I tried those, they feel so useless. I definitely have no problem installing a spa in the backyard in the future.

    You didn’t mention security system prewiring, central vac (both of which I know already made the comments), control4 system preparation or something similar like that that allows for smart homes, a microwave cabinet in the kitchen. Our family also added GFI outlets in the bathrooms by the toilets for future bidet seats as and when needed. I also like doing tile upgrades early because it gets messy afterwards. One thing you can consider doing is thinking where your back door comes out. In our neighbourhood, several owners bought the same model of a house, but transferred the back patio door from the dining room to the kitchen giving a larger patio door and a more convenient back deck. In ours we had ours right through the back of a breakfast area that jutted out into the middle of the garden, so eating up a good portion of our backyard. We moved it to the side.

    One thing people don’t think about much, and this isn’t an upgrade but a variation is light switches: gang them up whenever possible. If there are several light switches in an area but around a corner or something like that group them together and think of. Another upgrade you may consider doing is going to screw-less plates for a sleeker look and/or moving the switches to 36″ above finished floor. This placement hides the switches behind kitchen counters better so they are less prominent and in your face. They also tend to allow for easier and more efficient placement of photo frames.

    We also did something pretty interesting, if you are into contemporary design and have an off-white wall colour you can always ask your builder to paint the trims and doors the same colours as your walls. This has to only be done with flat panel doors. Do not do this if you have any other door style – perhaps shaker style MAY work (may)…the effect it gives is well worth it. Also upgrade door knobs and fixtures as you don’t want to be removing and reinstalling fixtures on doors. This isn’t the same for sink fixtures, those are really easy to upgrade because you’re not drilling into wood, and if you decide to change your vanity countertops later, these are getting removed for that so you can always buy them then.

  • Tile your bathroom wall all the way up to the ceiling and do the ceiling too.
    Don’t use wooden baseboards or beadboard in the bathroom.

    • Curious as to why not beadboard in the bathroom. I used Azek beadboard wainscoting in my beach cottage bathrooms and outdoor shower with good results. It’s much more moisture resistant than wood, good looking, and mold resistant. A little bleach when I do get moss in the outdoor shower and it looks like new. I agree with you that WOOD beadboard would not be practical due to moisture.

  • […] I was making my wish list, I found Burlap & Denim’s 37 Builder Upgrades You SHOULD Do and 13 Builder Upgrades You SHOULDN’T Do  so helpful. […]

  • We’re a few months away from starting the process of building and after reading your article wondered if it’s a selling point to raise the ceiling on the second floor? Wewere pplanning 9′ on the main level and 8′ on the second.

    • I don’t think it will turn buyers away so if you need to cut costs, that is a decent way. If you are thinking of putting bunk beds on the second floor, just know that it’ll probably be a little tight.

  • These are great ideas, but they will add up to some signficant money.

    One thing that is very bad advice: The idea of going ahead and getting granite and rolling it into your mortgage. Rembember that by the time you’ve made payments on that granite for 30 years, you’ll have paid for it THREE TIMES. If you can comfortably afford the granite, great — go ahead and get it — but “upsizing” your mortgage is not a good idea in the long run. Keep your mortgage as low as possible.

    Also, as for central vac, I used to want it … but now I’m in love with my Roomba. Just let it go, and the work is done! No dragging hoses of any type. You’ll still need a “real” vacccum for the occasional heavy-cleaning, and for vaccuming curtains and corners … but for your couple-times-a-week regular cleaning, GO, Team Roomba!

    • I think that “upsizing” a mortgage for granite would have been the right move for me, each decision is a personal one. I suppose we could live even more affordably and live mortgage free, but that isn’t in my personal life plan.
      I’m glad to hear about the Roomba! I’ve been eyeing the one at Costco.

  • I must be the only person who hates granite counter tops, it’s a big negative when buying a house for me, but so is beveled cabinetry. Having both of these things in my kitchen would either mean a no sale, or a complete renovation.

  • I love your list. We built our house 9 years ago and your list would have been helpful. I would add a couple of items. If you are building your final house, I would suggest ADA width doorways, etc. including taller toilets, etc. if these items are incorporated at initial build, they look more natural and are cheaper to do. You never know when a parent may need to move in, etc. the house actually looks and feels larger with the wider halls and doorways. We also put all of our outlets in the baseboards. I would add an electrical outlet to the mantel for lamps or Christmas decorations too. I live in Charleston, SC and it is very warm here. While it isn’t popular to put fans everywhere, we did except for the kitchen and dining room and sometimes I wish we had put one in the kitchen. We also have large front and back porches that we forgot to add water too; this is a major inconvenience and an expensive item to fix. It is a pain to drag a water hose and or multiple pitchers of water to water plants, etc. Be sure to put a water outlet on porches.

    • I agree with you on designing for accessibility, especially if you plan to stay in your new home until you can’t be independent. We’re factoring this design into our kitchen and bathrooms. For example, plates and pans are in drawers reachable by wheelchair as is one oven, refrigerator drawers, and a microwave drawer. We are also having an attic-to-basement elevator shaft pre-framed in our laundry room so we can add this later should it become necessary. We will have a dumb waiter for bringing wine bottles up from our wine cellar to our pantry. As I age, I’m not going to risk falling downstairs, or worse, dropping a bottle of wine (for medicinal purposes only). Lol.

  • One thing i didn’t see mentioned was installing multiple zones on the HVAC system. Why heat or a/c all the home when you are sleeping? or Why do the same for the bedrooms when you are in the living section? Likewise if you have a finished basement get a separate zone for that as well.

  • Determine where your towel racks and toilet paper holders will be and have blocks of wood nailed in so you don’t have to hunt for the studs.

  • Building a new house and builder is offering an upgrade to LED Wiring…what should the”up-charge” be and is it worth it?

  • I think if you have a really big bathroom. A ceiling fan rough in, is a great idea. I’m doing that in our new house. The master bath is 10×15 by itself.

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  • We built our home 3 years ago and did include most of your great suggestions. I would add one based on our experience: If you have usable attic space, have the builder put down 4×8 plywood on the rafters there.

  • Hi, great article, we are in the process of building a home and can’t believe how many of your upgrade ideas we included without seeing this earlier. With that said, you have given us additional ideas we will incorporate into our new build. Two questions for you, what does a small (7′ x 3′) “high traffic” wood walkway cost? Just a ball park estimate… Second, What does a typical “cap and band” stairway carpet installation cost vs. the waterfall?

    Thanks for your help!

  • We bought a house recently. Here are things that now bother us.

    1. Sink in basement – we have a 2nd floor laundry and not having a utility sink in the basement or garage is a pain for cleaning up after painting, etc.

    2. If you don’t put in a bathroom in basement make sure to have rough plumbing so can be added later.

    3. Cabinets to ceiling – best tip of all the above.

    4. Walk out basement – really important.

    5. Roomba – I had one of the originals and I loved him. He was the ‘son’ I never had. I’ll be getting an new one soon….but don’t tell my husband. (Also, great investment for churches, etc. Can be programmed to come out and clean the sanctuary, halls, late at night….)

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  • I didn’t read through all the comments, so this might have been mentioned, but we paid the extra to have radon abatement added to our home. It costs a tenth of the price if done pre construction. We also added a beam and took out the wall between our family room and kitchen to create a great room space so someone wouldn’t be cut off during parties. And double high windows in our north facing two story family room. Luckily most of your other items were already on our to do list :)

  • Would anyone pay the extra $3000+ to upgrade the interior doors to solid core?

    • I know this is late but I definitely would do solid core (not solid wood) in all interior doors except closet doors.

  • Add kitchen cabinets wherever there is room, and modify the cabinets for your uses. I added shelves on either side of the kitchen window, and two
    upper cabinets, as well as extending all of them to the ceiling. I also added a cabinet over the refrigerator, and a vertical wooden plank beside the fridge at the end of a counter to keep crumbs and other stuff from falling off the edge. All cabinet interiors are melamine instead of wood, I exchanged the lower cabinets for large drawers, and the lower two-thirds of my “pantry” pull out . I have twice the kitchen storage of my neighbors

    Don’t be shy about correcting your builder when things aren’t quite right. Our builder built many similar homes in our area, and tended to build our house with options we had not chosen. And my husband didn’t want to “offend” our builder about pointing out errors such as:
    1) a support column in our 3-car garage was not in the original plans (didn’t ask for correction)
    2) canned lighting omitted in the kitchen (corrected)
    3) tan sink installed in kitchen (corrected)
    4) electric wire strung across (instead of around) garage door rough-in (corrected)
    5) wrong shape of kitchen nook bump out (corrected)
    6) bedroom window and closet in wrong locations (corrected)

    This is a wonderful website, and you have wonderful suggestions! Keep ‘em coming!

  • I somehow posted the previous comment without having reviewed and completed it. A few more suggestions:

    I added a kitchen garage (tambour) door to hide my mixer, blender, toaster, etc, and added outlets there, as well. Don’t forget at least one outlet on the kitchen island.

    Be sure to add cable rough-ins, outlets, and phone jacks wherever you think you might need them. Put outlets (for lights) in the crawlspace, attic, and hallways.

    Don’t wall-in under the stairs — you’re losing precious storage. If there is a closet adjacent to the stairs, leave the space open and have the builder finish the space as a larger closet/storage space. Have them install a low cupboard opening under the stair landing (ours is full of sleeping bags).

    Have the builder put additional outside-light switches in your master bedroom. If you hear a noise outside, it’s great to be able to flip them on.

    Make sure you have adequate outlets in the garage for projects, vacuum cleaners, and overhead for each garage door opener (even if you plan to get those later). I wish we had had the garage interior walls completely finished.

    Now I’m done!

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  • I would add Nest Thermostat, or some sort of smart control to your list. Maybe not builder done but a simple diy after the fact, and has saved us 20-30% on our electric and gas bill. I love being able to really see how much our heater or ac is running, plus some states give rebates for installing them. And since its a “smart” thermostat, it learns our patterns, and doesnt turn the heat on as high when we are gone vs home. It also connects with carbon monoxide detectors and shows your house humidity and such. I love it!

  • we just put a deposit on a new house a week ago. this will be our second new build. some things I haven’t noticed that are super important to us is 1) Frameless glass shower in master ensuite. The builder’s floor plan included an oversized soaker tub and a small 3×3 shower. we will never use the tub, EVER. so we opted to have it taken out altogether and extend the shower to 4×6 and have it enclosed in glass. This is the ultimate luxury for us. other minor upgrades we are considering are anything that you need to cut into the walls to add later on- tv conduit above fireplace, ceiling light in a parlor room that didn’t have one in the plan, outlets behind the raised breakfast bar, Slide in Range and OTR microwave, corner cupboards, wide drawers for pots and pans, extended cabinetry, removal of a half-wall with decorative column to open up the space, a gas fireplace is a standard feature but we are having it raised to add a hearth, and that will double as extra seating for large get togethers…. lots of minor things, oh getting windows in the basement as big as we can get them too, that’s a biggie. love this blog looking forward to reading more great articles!

  • I would suggest painting inside all closets with white semi-gloss paint. Flat paints get marred and marked up so easily, but semi-gloss resists marks much better. It also reflects light better, so closets are brighter.

  • We really like having a hot and cold running faucet out at the back patio/deck. It’s great for giving the dogs a bath and for hosing down the kids If they are covered in dirt and grass! Great for filling the kiddie pool also!

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  • Amanda…wow you are awesome! I am looking to build my second new home or find an renovate to my taste. I did take advantage of many upgrades last time but 12 years later feeling remorse in making many mistakes. I have found a new sub that is getting ready for the start of building the first model home and builder has only been in business for 5 years so I have nothing to look at but a website and talk to the agent about what is standard and what are the upgrades. Fortunately, many of the standards are pretty good. But, I am not sure about some of following: rounded corners and I had that before and hated it because you can’t easily change paint colors from room to room as the flow are rounded corners so do I ask for straight or do I frame entries from room to room? Also, my last home had constant plumbing problems with clogged toilets to the consistent tubs and showers that would never drain so what can I ask for from the builder to prevent it this time around? On, doors and hardware, if they don’t have what I want should I just go with the hollow doors or at least I can upgrade to solid wood but nothing fancy is available, suggestions?

    • What did you end up doing about checking the drainage issues in your new build?

  • Amanda…wow you are awesome! I am looking to build my second new home or find an renovate to my taste. I did take advantage of many upgrades last time but 12 years later feeling remorse in making many mistakes. I have found a new sub that is getting ready for the start of building the first model home and builder has only been in business for 5 years so I have nothing to look at but a website and talk to the agent about what is standard and what are the upgrades. Fortunately, many of the standards are pretty good. But, I am not sure about some of following: rounded corners and I had that before and hated it because you can’t easily change paint colors from room to room as the flow are rounded corners so do I ask for straight or do I frame entries from room to room? Also, my last home had constant plumbing problems with clogged toilets to the consistent tubs and showers that would never drain so what can I ask for from the builder to prevent it this time around? On, doors and hardware, if they don’t have what I want should I just go with the hollow doors or at least I can upgrade to solid wood but nothing fancy is available, suggestions?

  • Amanda…WOW you are awesome! I spent a lot of time typing a post for you with some questions and about my home buying/renovating, and then I built new with a builder and I ended up 12 years later feeling a certain remorse. I am now in the market to buy again and I have been looking at what is out there and most of them I will be in DIY and contractor mode for months after I close. But I just found a new development but also with a fairly new builder with only 5 years in business. But, that may not matter as my former builder went out of business not long after I moved in. I have so many things to ask and address with you and your followers. And, I was going at it when I lost my post. I believe that I may want to discuss a more formal agreement with you to help me prevent many of what I did wrong. However, I will repost some of what I lost as I’m sure that your readers could benefit from your advice as I am sure that I am not alone in many ways that could help us all! Thanks so much for all amazing knowledge as I read every post! Good job !

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  • Splurge on built-ins. It may not be as expensive as you think. There is nothing more cheesy than you having a beautiful home with fabulous upgrades and plastic organizers. The absolute worst mistake you can make. This means every room. Don’t spend the money on things that look like wood or do the job of wood. Have the item made out of wood. Example, closets, shelves, tables, etc.. Don’t cheapen out! It cheapens the look of your house. Even better, try building it with your spouse for a character piece. It will still look better than plastic.

  • Wow, great ideas! I’m in the middle of a kitchen remodel right now and got some really timely tips here. One thing I found in a previous remodel was upgrading some of my windows to include built-in blinds. I can easily adjust them for light and privacy, and in 4 years I’ve never needed to dust the blinds at all. Yes, they cost a little more upfront, but not much more than adding window coverings later on, and they will never need to be replaced.
    Thanks for the original list, and all the suggestions from your readers.

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  • I had plugins put in my mantels. GREAT for lamps, Christmas lights, etc.

  • Two other things…dimmer switches for the kitchen and bathrooms and spray foam insulation, if you can swing it. Spray foam is an excellent insulator and sound proofing material. Dimmer switches help when getting up in the middle of the night so you don’t wake the whole family up by flipping a light switch on.

  • Hi everyone,
    Here are some more ideas..
    Upgrade the ceiling exhaust fans, otherwise the builder will put in the cheapest ones, Wish we thought of it.
    If your home is near tall trees, get covered evestroughs, to keep out leaves and birds
    Upgrade the subfloor material to 3/4″ ply
    Upgrade to insulated garage doors, they are finished inside, as nice as outside
    Put solid core doors in areas where privacy or quiet is important
    Have ceiling electrical boxes, reinforced to support a ceiling fan
    Backlit light switch plates, easier to find in the dark
    Try to go with pvc outdoors in lieu of painted wood. More durable, less maintenance
    Make all your bathrooms large enough to accommodate a vanity sink, as opposed to a pedestal sink. Women need counter space for their purses and
    Go with frosted glass for your shower enclosure, it hides water spots, and affords more privacy, also largest tiles to minimize amount of grout lines.
    Don’t use natural marble anywhere it will come in contact with water or high wear, go with marble looking quartz, it is much more durable
    Have shower head mounted higher to accommodate taller people
    Have central air unit positioned away from away from your outdoor living space
    Avoid carpeted stairs, go with finished wood. Easier to keep clean, and it is more durable. Also go with a build that has split stair cases, instead of one long continuous run. It is safer should you fall.
    And for any house being built with a basement, put in an large exterior door to it. It make it much easier to get large items into it.
    Last, a smartphone controlled thermostat.

  • I don’t agree.

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  • Thank you! We’re about to build and the original content along with comments are appreciated.

  • Would u recommend upgrading Carpet on new construction???
    It seemed reasonable and then I am done
    And don’t have to move furniture…

    • Great ideas.

      1. Add shampoo niches in shower nor corner shelves
      2. Don’t get builder grade 6 panel doors . They’re other better looking doors that are in the same price range of the 6 paneled doors.
      3. Get USB outlets in kitchen island , living rooms, bedroom
      4. Get dimmers switches where needed
      5. Upgrade to smart thermostat like Nest or similar
      6. Add or wire for video bell
      7. Wire for ceiling fan (will have 2 switches instead of 1) in case you want to add one in the future
      8. Don’t get 3” basetrim. Upgrade to taller ones . Simple stock flat window door and baseboard trim to save lots of money .
      9. Get “stock” shower enclosure instead of custom . Will save lots of money.
      10. Put hardwood floor throughout
      11. Upgrade bath exhaust fan. Builder grade ones get really noisy specially if you’re tiling all walls in the bathroom .
      12. Tile bath walls to ceiling
      13. You can Get custom cut shower curb /sill top, bath door threshold , niche surround etc to match your vanity top (if you’re getting custom vanity top)

  • Zone system is one of the things we upgraded since we are building 2 story home.

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  • The very first upgrades should be the entry doors. Get reinforced entry doors (“kick-proof”) with grade 1 deadbolts that extend into the 2×4 studs, not just the door frame. And then reinforce the sliding glass door if you have one, and get a deadbolt-locking garage door.

    Is any upgrade more important than being safe from burglars and criminals? No, this is the most important thing, and it’s overlooked a lot. Criminals look for the weakest link. Make your house safer than the others.

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