Controlling Costs: Choosing Materials & Finishes for Your Custom Home

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I hope this list of selections helps you with your custom build. It's easy to become overwhelmed with so many questions only you can answer, but hopefully, reviewing this list early in the process will help you feel prepared and stress-free, knowing what lies ahead.

Follow this link for your copy of my Preliminary Material and Finishes Checklist, to use on your new home build.

Below I'm breaking down the major materials and finishes that must be selected for any new build. This, by no means, is a complete list, but it's a great place to start before you even begin getting quotes from a builder. By thinking through the most common materials & finishes and understanding your options for each category, ensures that your expectations and the builder's pricing are aligned from the start. 

Let's begin with the exterior of the home, some of the first and biggest purchases for your build.

ROOFING: The main options for roof materials are a metal roof or an asphalt shingle roof. The asphalt shingle roof is the most affordable option, but a metal roof is more durable.

WINDOWS: Windows come in varying degrees of materials, styles, and colors. The most popular materials are vinyl, fiberglass, and wood. Most wood windows are clad with aluminum, which is the most expensive option with vinyl being the least expensive. In addition to material, windows come in lots of styles, with the most popular being double-hung, fixed, and casement. Double-hung have an operable pane that slides open, fixed windows don't open, and casement windows have a hinge on the side and open similar to a door. Fixed windows are the cheapest window, but only slightly. In addition, at least one means of egress is required from all bedrooms, so a house with only fixed windows may not be feasible. Finally, the color of window affects the cost as well with white being the cheapest and black typically being the most expensive.

EXTERIOR: The three main material options for your homes exterior are vinyl, fiber cement board (e.g. James Hardie), and masonry. Vinyl siding is the least expensive and it's available in pre-determined colors and styles. Styles include lap siding, board & batten, and shake. Fiber Cement is more expensive than vinyl and it's also available in pre-determined colors or it can be painted a custom color. The styles for fiber cement are also the same as vinyl, but the product is installed as individual pieces as opposed to sheets, like vinyl. Finally, the most expensive option for your home's exterior is masonry, which includes brick and stone. Stone is typically more expensive than brick.

PORCHES: Porch material types are typically pressure-treated wood, composite decking (e.g. Trex), or a hard surface like concrete, masonry, or tile. Pressure-treated wood is the most economical in terms of cost, and it's life-cycle can be extended by sealing it with polyurethane, stain, or paint. Next is composite decking which is more expensive than pressure treated wood, it's low maintenance and is available in pre-determined colors. Finally, using concrete, stone, or tile is the most expensive option, but it also lasts the longest and is the most durable.

HANDRAILS: If any of your porches are more than 30" off the ground, the building code says you need to have a handrail. The typical options are wood railing with wood spindles, wood railing with metal spindles, pre-fabricated metal railing, or cable railing. The wood railing with wood spindles is cheapest, moving to metal spindles increases the price, next in cost is the pre-fabricated metal railing, and finally the most expensive is the cable railing.

GUTTERS + DOWNSPOUTS: Typically the only material used for gutters and downspouts is aluminum and it's available in an assortment of colors. Customizing your gutters by adding leaf guards, etc., obviously increases the prices. In lieu of downspouts, rain chains are an option. Also, if it's allowed in your jurisdiction, gutters and downspouts may not be necessary, if the grading is done properly and the areas around your home are landscaped well to absorb the runoff.

GARAGE DOORS: Garage doors are also a very standard item that gets more expensive the more you customize it. If you have a standard 8' or 16' wide door, metal, in a standard color with no windows that's your least expensive option. The price starts to increase when you add windows, change to a wood grain or custom color, move to an oversize door in height or width, and add details like hinges or handles.

FRONT DOOR: The main entrance to your home is the first impression everyone has upon approaching your home. There are so many options, but it mainly comes down to several options. Single or double, painted or stained, glass or no glass, side lights with transom or not, and finally arch-top or square-top. The cheapest option is a single, painted door, with no glass or side-lights, and a square-top. However, that may not be your idea of the most inviting front entry, so be sure to communicate your ideal front door with your builder to make sure there's adequate money in the budget for what you want. 

EXTERIOR DOORS: The other exterior doors for your home include patio doors, side entries, and garage "man" doors. For patio doors a single full-glass door is typically the least expensive, next is a sliding glass door, and then finally double full-glass swinging doors. A full sliding glass wall is most expensive, but slightly less with a similar effect is a double sliding glass door. For the other doors, similar to the front door, a solid, painted door is cheapest, which makes since for the garage, it might make sense to add a screen door to your side entries to get the same effect as a patio door without the cost.

EXTERIOR ACCENTS: This includes items such as columns, ceilings, shutters, and brackets. These details add to the design of the house, but they also add cost. The price of each item is determined by it's material which are typically wood, which can be painted or stained, vinyl, metal, or fiber cement board. The least expensive option, depending on the element, is vinyl, but next is painted wood and then stained wood with metal and fiber cement board at the more expensive end of the spectrum.

Now let's move to the interior of the home. Again, focusing on the major selections that are likely to make the biggest impact on your budget.

FLOORING: The primary options for flooring include hardwood floors, luxury vinyl plank (aka LVP), porcelain tile, or carpet. When selecting flooring, I like to break it down into the different areas of the home... main spaces (kitchen, living room, dining room, hallways, etc.), utility spaces or wet zones (laundry room, bathrooms, etc.), and finally private spaces (bedrooms, playroom, etc.). By choosing floor finishes by area you can use a higher end product in the main spaces, such as hardwood floors or LVP, while using tile or LVP in the utility spaces, and something less expensive in the private spaces, like carpet. Another alternative for saving money on flooring is to build your home using a slab on grade and then polishing the concrete and using it as the finished floor of your home. It's not an ideal solution for everyone, but it does save money. Be sure your slab is insulated to avoid a constantly cold floor, and if you prefer a modern, industrial style this may be a perfect option for you. 

TUBS + SHOWERS: The material of most tubs these days is fiberglass, regardless if it's a freestanding tub, an alcove tub, or a built-in jetted tub. Fiberglass is your least expensive option, aside from maybe a salvaged clawfoot tub. For showers, there's a fiberglass shower base or custom tile base. The least expensive option is fiberglass base, which is available in standard sizes. The custom tile base is more expensive and is required if you're shower dimensions aren't standard. Next is the shower and tub surround, which are basically the walls of your shower or tub. Again, the least expensive option is a fiberglass surround with tile being the most expensive. When choosing a tile surround, your selection of tile greatly effects your cost. The least expensive tile options are large format tile, such as 12" x 24" sizes, with subway tile being next in cost, and finally mosaic tile, pattern tile, and oddly shaped tile at the top.

INTERIOR DOORS: The types of doors, along with the material and finish of the doors in your home contribute greatly to your budget. The least expensive door is a flush, hollow-core door with a standard swing. From there, a molded panel door is next, which is created by pressing the door material together in forms to create a particular door style. Finally, a rail & stile door is the most expensive and it's created using multiple components which are held together with dowel rods to create a solid and sturdy door. In addition, to how the door is made is how the door will operate. Standard swinging doors with hinges are the most common and most affordable. Pocket doors and barn doors are great space savers, but are more expensive due to installation using more intricate operating hardware.

DOOR HARDWARE: There are two main types of door hardware, knobs and levers. Knobs are less expensive, but levers are easier to use. The style and finish have the greatest impact on cost. Colors such as chrome and brushed nickel are less expensive than others, such as gold/brass and black.

INTERIOR TRIM: The main areas for interior trim are baseboards, window and door trim, and crown molding. A simple square molding is less expensive, as opposed to more intricate and decorative moldings. An option for saving money on window trim is to do drywall returns, which means there is no trim around the window. In addition, crown molding isn't necessarily required, so if you install it in only the main spaces, it's a great way to save some money. Also, painted trim is less expensive than stained.

PAINT + STAIN: Painting is always cheaper than staining, simply because the material that is being stained has to be a high-quality wood product. Whereas, a painted door, trim, ceiling, etc. can be anything from drywall to plywood to MDF (medium density fiberboard). Therefore, keep this in the back of your mind when selecting areas in your home to be painted vs. stained. These areas include doors, trim, accent walls, cabinetry, and ceilings.

CABINETRY: The types of cabinetry for your home are custom, semi-custom, or stock cabinets. The most expensive option is custom cabinets, which are built specifically for your home and painted in place. The next less expensive option is semi-custom cabinets, which are made to order and are available in standard sizes and standard colors. While stock cabinets are the least expensive option and are readily available, but typically come in one or two different colors and only a limited selection of cabinet types. Additional costs for cabinetry include extending cabinets to the ceiling, adding additional trim pieces, and customizing different units, such as spice rack, drawers, built-in trash can, etc.

COUNTERTOPS: Countertops are available in laminate, concrete, granite, marble, and quartz. Laminate is the cheapest option, while quartz is the most expensive. Even among the different materials, prices per square foot can vary greatly. Prices for stone are typically determined by how much of a certain product is available and how easy it is for the installer to acquire it.

BACKSPLASH: There are a few options for backsplashes, the cheapest and most standard being a 4" splash that matches the countertop material. This is typically included with the cost of countertops unless you specifically omit it, like in bathrooms. Other options (in order from cheapest to most expensive) include ship lap, subway tile, pattern tile, mosaic tile, thin brick, or a stone slab. 

FIREPLACE: If you have a fireplace in your home, how do you plan to treat the surrounding area, the mantle, and the TV location? Options include tile, brick, or stone around the fire place only & stopping under the mantle or extending the tile, brick, or stone all the way to the ceiling. 

The next category of selections are plumbing, which includes the following:

SINKS: These are the main styles, finishes, and installs for the most popular types of sinks. For styles, you have a single bowl or a double bowl, finishes are typically white porcelain or stainless steel, and the common install types are undermount or apron / farmhouse. Please note the sink base cabinet for an apron/ farmhouse sink is different than an undermount sink, so once you order cabinets you won't be able to change sink types without incurring additional charges. For the kitchen, the lease expensive sink is the single bowl, stainless, undermount sink. And for bathrooms, the most common is a porcelain white, undermount sink especially with a vanity, while other options are a vessel sink or a pedestal sink. The pedestal sink is the cheapest, but doesn't include any storage options.

SINK FAUCETS: The main goal when selecting faucets in the early stages of your project is to determine what locations you plan to install a faucet. The main areas, like kitchens and bathrooms are obvious, but a builder may overlook other locations, if they're not explicitly called-out. These locations include pot filler behind the range, prep sink, butler's pantry, laundry, kitchenette, dog wash station, outdoor sink, or beverage bar to name a few. 

SHOWER FAUCETS: The more customized your shower faucets are the more expensive they'll be. This is something that may be overlooked in the initial bid, so be sure to include any extras you want, so the builder understands from the start. These items include spray jets, multiple shower heads, rain-head showers, hand shower, slide bar, or anything atypical.

FAUCET FINISH: Faucet costs are different depending on the finish, similar to door hardware, so chrome and stainless/ brushed nickel are most economical, while black and champagne bronze (gold/brass) are more expensive.

WATER HEATER: The cost between a tank water heater and an on-demand water heater are substantial, so you'll want to let the builder know which you prefer early in the process. A tank water heater, heats the water being stored in the tank, and it's the most common water heater used in homes. The on-demand water heater, heats water as it's needed, so you never have to wait. Both are available in both gas and electric, however the on-demand water heater is most efficient when run on gas.

Lighting is a category that I see people struggle with the most. Below I'm listing the most common lighting categories and where these types of fixtures are most commonly used in a home.

RECESSED CAN LIGHTS: Can lights are used for general lighting in the main areas of a home. Primarily the kitchen, living room, hallways, and above tubs and showers.

SURFACE MOUNT CEILING LIGHT: Surface mount ceiling lights are a decorative alternative to a can light. These might be used in hallways or closets for a more decorative touch.

CEILING FAN (WITH OR WITHOUT LIGHT KIT): Ceiling fans are commonly used in bedrooms, living rooms, and porches. They are available with and without light kits, if it's used without a light kit, the supplemental lighting is usually provided with can lights. Remember, ceiling fans are rated dry, damp, and wet, so be sure to select the appropriate fan for it's location.

CHANDELIER: These decorative fixtures are used mainly in the dining rooms, breakfast nooks, foyers, and over U-shaped stairwells. Sometimes they're used in master bedrooms and living rooms, depending on your preference.

PENDANTS: Pendants are primarily used in the kitchen, over the sink and above the island.

SCONCE / VANITY LIGHT: A vanity light is a wall mounted fixture that works well above the mirror in the bathroom, they're available in 2-light, 3-light, and 4-light styles. A sconce is a 1-light version of the vanity light and they're primarily used in reading nooks and stairwells.

LED PUCK LIGHT: These are cheaper versions of recessed cans, but they're flush mounted and shaped similar to a hockey puck. These are used in utility spaces, such as garages, pantry, closets, and laundry rooms.

EXHAUST FAN: This is a functional fixture that removes steam and smells from bathrooms. These are located anywhere you have a shower or toilet.

EXTERIOR SCONCES: This is a decorative wall mounted fixture that is rated for outdoor use. They are located adjacent to exterior doors and above garage doors.

SECURITY LIGHTS: These functional lights are used to spread light over a large distance, they are typically motion-activated, and are located on the exterior corners of the house.

Last, but certainly not least, are the appliances for your home. By selecting the appliances you want in your home early, the builder will know to include them in the budget, as well as accommodating them into the electrical and cabinetry trades.

REFRIGERATOR / FREEZER: The refrigerator is typically 36" wide X 72" tall. Other options are available though, such as a counter depth refrigerator or individual refrigerator and freezer units. 

DEEP FREEZER: Some pantries are being designed around the deep freezer. If this is you, be sure you're builder knows it and includes it in the budget.

MICROWAVE: The microwave can be located different areas of the kitchen, with each effecting the budget differently. Those areas are built-in to the cabinets, above-the-range, or freestanding.

RANGE HOOD: If you microwave is not located above the range, you options include an under-cabinet range hood, a stainless steel hood vent, or a custom hood vent constructed from the material of your choice.

DISHWASHER: The dishwasher is a standard kitchen appliance, but if you want more than one, your builder needs to know.

GARBAGE DISPOSAL: The garbage disposal comes in handy for getting rid of kitchen waste, but some people don't like them and some people want them in every sink in the house. Let your builder know what you prefer.

WALL OVEN: The double wall oven is perfect for hosting parties and family gatherings. 

RANGE: What type of range will your home have? There's many options, but the standard is a 30" wide freestanding range oven in electric or gas. Other options include a cook-top or an induction range. They all vary considerable in width and cost.

WINE / BEVERAGE COOLER: These are perfect for the kitchenette or an outdoor kitchen. They're available in under-counter and full-height models and feature a glass door for visibility.



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