It’s now been about a year and a half after moving in, and since many people have asked me to do a follow-up post on how things are going, I thought I would do that.
Overall, we couldn’t be happier with the house. It’s been even lower maintenance than we had hoped, and there really aren’t any significant aspects of it we’d change. When building a house, you are always extremely worried that anything which isn’t perfect is going to end up bugging you for years. Counterintuitively, I would say that the opposite has been true for us. We tried to get as many things perfect as possible during the build process, but there are always little things like imperfect drywall angles, imperfect cabinet tones, and imperfect rainscreen panel alignment that get left imperfect. I would say that since the moment we moved in, we’ve noticed that stuff less and less.
Lesson: Try to get everything as right as you can, but realize that nothing is ever going to be perfect and that the enjoyment of living in your house will make you forget anything that isn’t.
The architect/builder relationship
You can really tell a lot about a company by how well they treat you after they’re “done”. Although we haven’t had anything major go wrong with the house (not even a single drywall crack!), the team at Build LLC has been superb about following up with us and taking care of miscellaneous things that needed taking care of; things like fixing or replacing some door hardware, regrouting some cracked grout, and facilitating the replacement of a (gigantic!) defective pane of glass. Not only has everything been done quickly and efficiently, but almost as importantly, it’s been done happily. Team Build stands behind their work, and as has been the case from the beginning, they aren’t happy unless you are happy.
Lesson: Make sure the company who builds your house cares about you; not just finishing the job.
I am so glad we ran as much ethernet wiring as we did, and in fact, I wish we would have run even more. Once most of the wiring was in, a friend of mine who was helping me asked if I wanted to run some outside too, particularly on the roof. I said I couldn’t imagine why I would need that so we didn’t run it. Lo and behold, we had to steal a couple of existing lines in order to operate some devices we hadn’t anticipated, so it would have been nice to just have several nascent extra lines sitting in walls around the house.
Lesson: Overwire. Then, when you’re done, overwire again. Running wire is dirt cheap and it’s a pain to do after the drywall is in. Put it everywhere.
Overall, we’re extremely happy with the home automation/security system we put in; it’s a source of daily convenience and peace of mind. Controlling everything (lights, arming/disarming, blinds, etc.) via iPhone is so convenient that we probably wouldn’t even install a touchscreen wall panel if we did it again. The standard keypads in the walls are fine, but with how great iPhone integration is getting, the phone has really become the primary way we interact with our home technology. Also, if you’re building a new house, a security system is valuable beyond its obvious use; it also gives piece of mind when you hear the inevitable settling noises at night.
Lesson: You don’t have to spend too much on a security and home automation system, but get one that gives you the utility you need. You will use it every day.
Heating and cooling
We went with an electric heat pump for the house’s main heating and cooling, and then put electric radiant pads only in the master bathroom and one other concrete slab. This strategy has worked out superbly. I don’t wish I had “real” whole-house radiant heat at all, and in fact, I think that in most cases, it’s overrated. Forced air is able to heat and cool the house a lot more quickly, and it’s well-suited for solar retrofitting when that becomes affordable.
Lesson: Don’t write off radiant heat, but don’t think it’s going to make you automatically more comfortable either. An electric heat pump will give you both heating and cooling in one shot. That said, an inexpensive radiant pad in your bathroom will keep your feet toasty in the morning.
The best feature
The most enjoyable feature of the house is the rooftop deck/hot tub.
Lesson: Strongly consider a rooftop deck/hot tub.
As far as bathrooms are concerned, the most important thing for us has been our beloved Kohler Flipside showerhead. It’s quite simply the best showerhead in the world and I don’t understand why everyone in the world with $70 to spend hasn’t purchased one yet. Take the little yellow plastic flow regulator out and it will change your life. The most overrated bathroom item so far has been body sprays in the shower. We rarely ever use them and wouldn’t put them in again.
Lesson: Go out and buy a Kohler Flipside today. Seriously, just do it. I love this showerhead so much that I keep an extra one in my garage just in case.
With regard to our kitchen, we’re very happy we went with an induction cooktop instead of gas and recommend it whole-heartedly. Additionally, the GE Monogram Advantium Speed Oven has given us a second oven and a microwave, all wrapped up in an attractive package. Microwaves are almost always ugly, so it’s nice to have one embedded inside a legitimate oven.
Lesson: Induction is the future.
Low maintenance landscaping
Although we’re not completely done with landscape design efforts, we’re generally happy with the amount of maintenance our plants and lawn require. We opted for only a small lawn in front, along with a lot of native plants, and some thyme ground cover in the backyard. In the summer, I spend maybe 10 minutes a week mowing the lawn with a manual push mower, and then there’s a little weeding and watering required beyond that.
Lesson: Your house is only as low-maintenance as the most high-maintenance item in it. Don’t kill its low-maintenanceness with a landscaping strategy that requires hours upon hours of your attention… unless that’s your thing, of course.
The house so far has more than lived up to our expectations. It was extremely enjoyable to build and even more enjoyable to live in. If you’re considering building your own place, I encourage you to read A House By The Park start-to-finish. If my experience can help you save a few dollars or make a few better decisions in your own project, it will have made all the writing worth it.