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List of design/materials decisions to make when building a house

8 years ago

Has anyone come across a tidy list (or made your own?) of decisions to be made when building a house? I'm not thinking about floor plan considerations, but the finer details. Just a few examples of what I'm looking for...

  • Driveway material, dimensions, shape
  • Garage door windows/styles/color
  • Entry door
  • Entry door hardware
  • Base and case trim species, width, stain/paint color
  • Stair railing style/materials

Our architects had some general suggestions/ideas, but we're making a lot of the final decisions ourselves. Our foundation walls are being poured tomorrow (!!!) and we're wanting to make as many decisions as early as possible so we are never the cause for any construction delays.

Comments (40)

  • 8 years ago

    I've been trying to make them as I designed the house. Even before having final plans. I think a lot of the design decisions really are part of the house and need to be made at the same time.

    I have all my door handles picked out, my wood trim around all windows and doors, baseboards, frieze boards, fireplace and surround, bookcases between kitchen and living room, types of doors for the sliders and for the french door upstairs, stone for outdoors (although I have no idea what colors I'm going to choose), entry door and hardware. I have a general idea of the stairway but part of that will also depend on pricing.

  • 8 years ago

    I would love to see your list! You sound so organized!

  • PRO
    8 years ago

    If your foundation walls are being poured all of these selections and decisions should have already been made. As for a list get a copy of the CSI specifications for residential construction. Everything is there.

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I'd already start thinking about light switches, dimmers, ceiling fans/bath fans if applicable. If I had it to do over I think I'd have combined the fan with the light in the guest powder room. It allows for automatic sound privacy for kids and adults alike and because of the plumbing in the wall there isn't a lot of noise buffer if you know what I mean. No room for good insulation.

    What about outlets? Christmas decor plugs - inside? outside? Do you need a lamp post by your driveway? Where is the switch, does the electrician know you are having one? Of course you will do a walk through but there is so much going on a written vs. mental list of the oh I don't want to forget would be handy.

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Well, deciding which of my current furnishings I want to move with me (and where they would go). That's definitely an early task, before all the drawings are finalized. I have two pieces of triangular furniture that HAD to have their own logical corners. (Yeah, you can get all new stuff, but I find that horrendously wasteful assuming you still like some of the old stuff.)

    The basics of the driveway were decided before I even had a plan. Long, flat, gravel (we're rural), circular by the house so you can drive in and then drive back out without ever having to back up.

    One disadvantage of picking out everything in advance -- I'm having to reconsider a countertop in the kitchen as it's no longer in production -- and countertops aren't something you stash away in your current basement while the hole is being dug.

  • 8 years ago

    We did not have all that decided before our foundation pour. Doubt if many do despite what Virgil says. Our contractor is impressed that we know our preferences as much as we do. Another job he has at this same time is driving him crazy as they don't know what they want and are changing things that they have decided on.

    arialvetica thanked User
  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    We picked everything we could possibly think of:

    - stucco type/color

    - siding type/color

    - shingle type/color

    - cladding/penetration colors

    - trim type/colors

    - Windows, soffits and fascia

    - eavestrough, gutters

    - deck material

    - door type, style, color, material, doorknobs, passage/privacy/dummy/keyed, handlesets and doorknobs, and brickmolds

    - all plumbing and lighting fixtures, including undercab, stair lighting, and some exterior lighting

    - all cabinets and countertops, including drawer pulls

    - all flooring and underlay

    - all paint colors

    - all trim colors and style, including the stacking of molding for effect

    - identified need for electric hot water tank, furnace, air conditioning, uv water filtration, water softener,

    - all utility hookups

    - wall plate color/style, including for communication cabling and light switches

    - whole home surge protector

    - color/look of floor registers and air returns

    - all appliances

    - grab bars, mirrors and such for bathrooms

    - towel and bedroom linen colors (nope not kidding!)

    - curtain colors

    - final landscaping and grounds design

    - fireplace, including surround, mantel, and firebox

    - stair handrails and handrail brackets

    - lightbulbs! (we went led as much as possible)

    - mood boards for each room with our colors, furniture, lighting and flooring pics

    - exact locations for tv, appliances, computers, electrical outlets (and how many in each spot, we changed quite a few to quad outlets), etc

    - detailed kitchen do-dads to optimize storage

    ...and probably a few other things Im forgetting!

    arialvetica thanked lookintomyeyes83
  • 8 years ago

    I saw a book with such a list. A whole book.

    Sorry, I don't know the name -- I didn't buy it.

  • 8 years ago

    How about subfloors roof & sheathing material, OSB vs plywood

    cat 5e vs cat 6 wiring


    porch roof material

    wifi router location, do you have it in the center of the first floor?

    zoned heating necessary? 1 furnace or 2?

    ceiling treatments: crown, trey, coffered, cathedral

    trim: chair rail, picture rail, wainscoting, board & batton.

    I'm sure there's more.

  • 8 years ago

    Any outlets wifi controlled?

    Any usb charging ports?

    any low voltage lighting needs outside?

    are any outdoor outlets linked to wall switches?

  • 8 years ago

    Surely someone has made a spreadsheet of this somewhere...

  • 8 years ago

    my list above was a summary of my spreadsheet, I just figured no one cared for the item x item details. It should be pretty darn comprehensive though.

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Here's "Column A" of my spreadsheet so far, based on what I've found here and elsewhere. So far I have separate tabs within this spreadsheets for: Lights, Plumbing Fixtures, Floors.


    Concrete patio(s)

    Breezeway surface

    Breezeway rail

    Garage car doors

    Garage man door to breezeway

    Garage trough drain


    Irrigation rough-in

    Dirt leveled/hauled out

    Entry door

    Entry door hardware



    Sun tubes




    HVAC - vents

    Laundry room vent

    Light fixtures

    Lights in crawl space

    Exterior lights



    Water softener


    Kitchen sink

    Kitchen faucet


    Bath faucets

    Bath hooks/bars


    Garbage disposal




    Window Liner

    Stair rail

    Interior doors


    Drywall features

    Kitchen cabinets

    Kitchen cabinets - light shield, if necessary

    Master bath cabinet

    Bedroom A bath cabinet

    Basement bath cabinet

    Power bath cabinet

    All cabinet hardware

    Laundry counter

    All bathroom counters

    Kitchen counter

    Kitchen backsplash




    Exterior window trim


    Interior paint



    Septic lift system

    Deck surface

    Deck rail

    Deck canopy



  • 8 years ago

    Great list poolroom. I would add to that "nails vs screws for drywall hanging".

  • 8 years ago

    i have made a very lengthy spreadsheet for our house but have it arranged by room, since i don't want the same counter in all bathrooms.. but i also include some technical details that poolroomcomesfirst mentioned. as a homeowner, is it approrpriate for me to say screw versus nails for drywall (or vice versa) or 5/8ths drywall?. will my contract spell out some of these things?. what are some of the technical details i should focus on?

  • 8 years ago

    Some builders use materials to cut cost. If you don't spec it, they'll use whatever they want. I can't imagine a builder using nails on drywall, but I'm sure it happens. Drywall vs OSB can be more of a preference thing that does affect cost. A house built with all OSB will most likely be fine. You probably won't notice it ever. However there are those that think plywood is better and will hold nails better. Also in high stress/wear areas like roofs (especially in high wind or storm/hurricane areas) or floors, plywood will hold up longer and not be prone to popping nails or creaking. Personally I'm in the later camp. For wall sheathing, as long as you have a good home wrap, I think OSB is perfectly fine. The mix is a good way to keep cost down without sacrificing quality.

    But it to answer your question, yes, you can and should question construction methods and materials to evaluate the builders quality. Just realize there are cost tradeoffs to all of these decisions.

  • 8 years ago

    When questioning realize that you're not the expert, and for all you know, neither is any one opinion on this, or any, message board.

    The last thing you want is to mandate material choices that drive up cost and don't add any value.

    You're hiring this person because you've seen his/her finished work. Checked their references, and trust them.

    Hopefully if you did your legwork on the front end, you'll have a nice home when all is said and done.

    with that said knowing what questions to ask from a materials aspect is a good way to compare builders when all else appears equal.

  • 8 years ago

    Since I'm on a roll! Everyone should know what a plinth block is. I absolutely love them, and think it adds a ton of old school class to thick trim.

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    It is important that the Outline or List of Owner Choices is developed in steps instead of all at once because the inclusion of detailed Quality Standards and Installation Instructions can turn a list of Owner Choices into a full blown Specification that should be prepared and coordinated by the building designer so it will be in a format that can be used to obtain competitive sub-contractor prices.

    In other words, a basic list of Owner Choices should be reviewed with the Designer or Design-Builder so they can add quality standards and installation instructions. that would be the time to mention drywall screws. The resulting information would then be put into the Contract Specifications and Drawings upon which the Contract Price would be based. Materials that are not selected at the time of contract signing would part of an Allowance section and decided upon later after the project is underway but the installation price would be in the Base Price.

    Even if you are the person who will be documenting the work of the project, it is still a good idea to select and document in an outline the basic materials and systems before determining the kind of screws to be used. Selecting everything it is often too much for one person to manage and a good outline allows others to help.

  • 8 years ago
    thank you both for the feedback! our architect has the list as we are trying to incorporate everything before putting the project out to bid, in the hope that the project comes in as close to bid as possible. and in the end, i am trying to be a good homeowner/partner in this entire process with the architect and builder we eventually select.
  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I have an Outline that I will have to split into8 posts. Such things are never complete but is not far off.

    It is not in a Specification format because it is intended for use by Owners who do not think in terms of how the work will be divided into trades. To become part of a Contract Specification the information would need be reformatted so it could be divided into sub-contractor sections.




    • Basement Foundations

    • Crawl Space Foundation

    • Integral slab & foundation

    • Slabs on Grade



    Radon Mitigation

    2. SHELL


    • Exterior Wall construction

    - Air & Weather Barrier

    - Interior Vapor Retarder

    • Floor framing

    • Roof framing

    • Long Span Beams

    • Exterior Windows, Skylights & Sun tunnels

    • Exterior Doors & Hardware

    • Overhead Doors with Opener

    • Wall insulation

    • Roof insulation

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    wall coverings & trim

    • Masonry

    • Stone

    • Stucco

    • Siding

    • Standing & Running Trim

    • Window & Door Trim

    • Sub-Sills

    • Shutters

    • Awings

    Windows & hardware

    Exterior Doors & Hardware

    Exterior Attached Decks, Railings & Stairs


    • Underlayment

    • Roof Coverings

    • Skylights

    • Flashings & Terminations

    • Special Roof Enclosures (metal flues & chimneys)

    • Gutters & downspouts


    • Masonry

    • Metal

    Vent caps

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago


    Interior Construction

    • Partitions

    • Interior Doors

    • Door hardware & Finishes

    - hinges, knobs, locks, stops

    - flush bolts, keying

    • Door Thresholds & Weather stripping

    • Acoustic insulation

    Interior Finishes

    • Wall Finishes

    - Veneer Plaster System (blueboard)

    - Taped Drywall & Finish Level

    - Paint

    - Wallpaper

    - Vinyl Wallcovering

    - Tile

    - Paneling

    - Tile Backer Boards

    • Ceiling Finishes

    - Veneer Plaster System (blueboard)

    - Taped Drywall & Finish Level

    - Paint

    - Paneling

    • Floor Finishes

    - Hardwood, Stain & Finish

    - Prefinished Engineered Wood

    - Underlayment and Carpet

    - Underlayment & Resilient Flooring or Tiles

    - Underlayment & Ceramic Tile

    - Stone & Brick

    - Terrazzo

    - Floor Gratings & Grilles

    - Transitions Strips & Reducers

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago


    • Door Trim

    • Window Trim & Stools

    • Wall base

    • Plinths

    • Ceiling trim

    • Shelving & closet rods

    Fireplaces & Stoves

    • Masonry or Factory-Built Metal

    - Gas Fired, closed

    - Wood Burning, open

    • Masonry Chimneys & Flues

    • Metal Chimneys & Flues

    - Insulated chimney

    - Direct Vent Flue

    • Mantels

    • Firebox Surround

    • Wall Protection

    • Hearth


    • Stair Construction

    • Treads & Risers

    • Nosing

    • Railings & Guards

    • Balusters

    • Stair Finishes

    • Carpet

    Cabinetwork & Counters

    • Kitchen, cabinets & counters

    • Baths: vanities, med. Cab., tub decks & counters

    • Desks

    • Other cabinetwork

    Window Treatments

    • Blinds, Shutters & Shades

    • Curtain tracks

    Louvers, Vents & Grilles

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago


    Kitchen Appliances

    • Refrigerator/Freezers

    • Disposer

    • Dishwasher

    • Range & Exhaust Hood (see HVAC)

    • Compactor

    Laundry Appliances & Equipment


    Conveying Systems

    • Elevators and Lifts


    •Plumbing Fixtures & Accessories

    - Bath





    Tub fill

    Shower mixer & diverters

    Hand showers

    Shower heads

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago


    Towel Bars & Hooks

    TP holders


    Tub & shower Doors

    Shower rods

    - Laundry

    Washer hook up

    Sink & Faucets

    - Kitchen



    Pot filler

    Refrig. Ice maker

    - Exterior Hose Bibs

    • Domestic Water Distribution, softeners & filters

    • In-line Circulator Pump

    • Water heater

    • Sanitary Waste & Ejectors

    • Sump Pump

    • Steam generator

    Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

    • Heating & Distribution System

    • Air Conditioning & Distribution System

    • Ventilation and Energy Recovery Systems

    • HVAC Controls

    • Range Exhaust Hood Ducts

    • Bath Exhaust Fan Ducts

    • Dryer Exhaust Duct

    Fire Protection Systems

    • Sprinkler Systems

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago


    • Electrical Service - size and location

    • Interior Lighting Fixtures (low & line voltage)

    - Wall mounted

    - Ceiling mounted

    - Recessed

    - Track mounted

    - Under cabinet lighting

    - Utility lighting
    -Lamps (light bulbs)

    • Ceiling Paddle Fans

    • Bath Exhaust Fans

    • Range Exhaust Fans

    • Switches & control systems

    • Receptacles

    • Low voltage charging outlets

    • Exterior Lighting Fixtures & controls

    • Exterior Receptacles

    • Data & Communications & Entertainment Systems

    - Wired & Wireless

    • Security Alarms

    • Smoke Detectors

    • Generators

    • Solar Voltaic Systems

    • Power Storage Systems

  • 8 years ago

    Thanks, JDS! Awesome outline! Although in my case I never expected the GC to price in some of the items -- solar/voltaic I'm contracting out myself, and I'm buying the major appliances separate from our contract (within the size and fueling specifications). Since things got switched around before being firmed in with my current GC, I've also been directly responsible for the well and septic set-up, although GC is responsible for connecting (former has been completed). We also plumbed in for geothermal, which I will set up once the major job is done -- I want to sell my current home first, for various reasons... ;)

    But it does mean some things haven't been decided. I am re-evaluating one quartz countertop no longer in production -- yes, and I'd picked it out MONTHS ago, and I haven't picked actual lighting in the bathrooms -- I know I want three-light systems over the vanities, but haven't picked them out, yet. I did know a long time ago I want toggle rather than rocker plates for my electrical switches -- yeah, the latter look cool and are "trendy/updated", but I have several wonderful old toggle electrical switch plates that I want to move with me! I haven't decided on the paint colors for two of the bedrooms, but I want warm and earthy -- this can wait! I haven't picked out window treatments yet either, although I lean towards one...

    At any rate -- driveway, drainage, garage parameters, flooring types, ceiling types, heat source, whether a generator for our New England climate is desired, fireplace? wood burning stove? -- and type - and YES, pick out your wood burning stove in advance because each of them have different space requirements.

    Another thing to consider, if you live in regions impacted by age-old glaciation:

    Where DO you want to put them ages old rock your GC dug out from under your foundation in order to built your home? Personally, I'm workin' on that! Some of those rocks are dang cool, but there's a serious overabundance... ;)

  • 8 years ago

    wow, that is a great list, thank you so much for sharing JDS!

  • 8 years ago

    JDS, Very informative list. Thank you for sharing.

  • 8 years ago

    Yes, thank you!

  • 8 years ago

    JDS, you, Virgil, ARG and others are very generous with your time and energy on
    this forum…

    I am three years out from our forever home and this and other threads are in favorites....

    Thank you !!!!!!!!!!

  • 8 years ago

    This is great advice, BUT...what if you and your spouse aren't on same page or timetable. My husband is all about the nuts and bolts of construction, but I am trying to be proactive and get some other decisions made about what he deems more "decorator/cosmetic" type stuff...i.e., cabinetry and interior trim/casing, etc. I tried to tell him the cabinets could have a lengthy lead time depending on what we pick, and that BEFORE we can decide on cabinetry, we have to make a decision on appliances. In other words, we can't plan cabinetry around the 25 year old refrigerator he doesn't want to get rid of until it croaks... We should "plan" for the refrigerator we "want" rather than what we "have". I also want a 36 inch rangetop instead of a 30 inch gas cooktop, and that too has go into the planning. I know he's thinking we'll take a wait and see approach - meaning what we have left $$$-wise and then make appliance decisions, but in the real world it doesn't work that way. I've just run into the same issue with the siding on the house - the plans were drawn with hardie board & batten siding to give the project a fresher mountain farmhouse look. Our GC assumed that meant we wanted to paint the siding after installation because my husband really didn't listen to me when I talked about using a rustic prefinished hardie siding. He thought the "rustic" could just be painted on afterwards, and now is crazed because the GC is telling him the local company that prefinishes the hardie has a 3 month lead time due to their volumes, and the other company that does that type of prefinishing is in Canada and the Pacific Northwest and we'll have high(er) freight charges. It goes back to thinking that "painting" is just "painting" and is a cosmetic thing...

  • PRO
    8 years ago

    Folks, if you want an "outline" specification guide, it's hard to beat the one JDS posted and the way he describes its best and proper use. It's worth printing and adding to your house file!

    arialvetica thanked Virgil Carter Fine Art
  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    All projects are a bit different but, in general, the first long lead-time items to be ordered on a project are the windows so they must be specified in the contract. There should be enough time to design the cabinets and counters during excavation, foundations and rough framing. All that is needed for appliances is their rough opening sizes and they would usually be ordered later to avoid having to store them somewhere.

    The reason to specify these materials before construction starts is to be able to bid them competitively and to have a better idea of the total cost of the project. Postponing these decisions usually increases costs.

    The time to communicate concerns about siding finishes is in the design phase by responding in writing to a list of owner choices and then discussing it with the entire team before the project documents are completed.

    Also, it is best to begin the design process by tackling the big issues and I doubt either nuts & bolts, appliances or siding finishes would be considered big issues.

  • 7 years ago

    Great lists, well done. I've got a very intensive spreadsheet set and will compare to see what I may have missed, thanks!

  • 2 years ago

    This thread is awesome 🙏🏼

  • PRO