There is a lot of talk about living off the grid, becoming more self-sustainable.  The reasons vary from escaping the everyday rat race of life to simply understanding better what we are exposed to and expose our children to, desiring to reduce your living expenses and enjoying your lives more. Whether you choose to live off the grid, or on the grid there are a few things you want to consider to make sure your home living expenses and daily management of time proves to be fruitful and allows you the lifestyle you choose to live.

Things to consider when building a home off the grid:

  • Decide how extreme, or off the grid you want to live.  You may want to research and inquire with people who have made this transition.
  • Will you use solar or wind power, or possibly a generator to generate electricity?
  • If you are installing a well, how far you have to drill will determine the cost.  You may ask yourself what all is involved with testing drinking water to protect you and your family from water borne illness.
  • Will you have a septic system or use a grey water system to process your waste?
  • What about cooking and comfort heat?  Will you use a propane or natural gas system or will you depend on wood burning stoves?

If you are living in a southern region, where there may be more moisture, do you have a plan to avoid or reduce the potential growth of mold and mildew?

If you are making the choice to be more self-sustainable through food as well, you want to also make sure you understand how to create the proper garden space.  If you garden, how will you water your garden– maybe consider rain barrels and grey water systems for irrigation.  Other garden considerations are compost piles and determining if you will use pesticides or attempt organic gardening.

A few questions to consider when building a home on the grid:

  • Does the size and style of your home fit your budget?
  • Are your windows, doors and appliances energy efficient?
  • Does your lot provide the space you need to garden?
  • Will you have a septic system or connect to city water and sewer?
  • Are you working with a reputable builder?

There are pros and cons to both types of living and ultimately your lifestyle will help determine which way you choose to live.  Understanding the budgets of both types of living as well as maintenance can help your environment be as comfortable as you desire.

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As the rainy season moves in and you become more eager to get outdoors, finding things to do around the house can sometimes seem daunting. While it’s always good to catch up on naps, enjoy some sports on TV, or keep up with the daily home chores it’s also a great time to do some of those tasks you might not want to do when the sun is welcoming you outside.

Here are a few productive rainy day projects:

  • Garden Planning

Planning a garden takes time, and during your rainy days this is a great project to tackle.  You can use this time to research new types of vegetables or plants; Get your children involved by grabbing some markers, crayons and large paper or paper bags and map out your garden together.

  • Garage/Craft Room Organization

Rainy days are a great time for organization.  Pick a room that needs some attention and focus on organizing items you use and prepare to haul away items you may no longer need.  Having a few plastic crates, baskets and recycled jars can make this a fun event for your kids too.  You can utilize recycled jars and cans to organize paint brushes, markers or tools in the garage.  A great place to look for rainy day project ideas is Pinterest, where you can find a ton of ideas for any room project.

  • Regular Home Maintenance (checking batteries in smoke detectors, changing air filters, etc.)

Regular home maintenance should probably be on your calendar anyway, however getting around to these things sometimes fall to the not so important list.  Take the time to catch up on these maintenance tasks on rainy days and have peace of mind when it comes to keeping your home safe and running efficient.  You can also take this time to create a fire escape plan for you and your family.

  • Checking for Leaks

While no one enjoys a leak, during the rainy days this is a great time to look around the house to make sure your home is sealed up and water isn’t making its way inside.  Common places to look for leaks will be around windows and doors, garage doors, sky lights, vents and chimneys. You may also want to check to make sure your gutters aren’t clogged up and that there is proper drainage within flower beds leading water away from the home.  If you discover you have a leak, you want to remedy the situation so that long term water exposure doesn’t create larger problems.

There is plenty to do on rainy days, from enjoying a marathon movie day, baking goodies for the week or making those rainy days as productive as you choose.  Feel free to share some fun ideas for the family to do together or projects that can be done at home while listening to the rain!

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Old world charm and a farmhouse feel can be a nice feature you decide to incorporate within your new custom home.

There are always new trends when it comes to room designs within your home, but some farmhouse favorites always seem to be on the top of the list.

If you like the farmhouse feel, here are a few items to consider adding to the design of your home:

  • Apron front / Farm sinks

Farm house sinks, originally made of porcelain and heat baked clay were designed for function and ease as kitchen responsibilities were a long daily routine.  Today, we see the comeback of the farmhouse sink design and many families are choosing this option, which incorporates function and design.  These sinks are available in many materials including concrete, stainless steel, fireclay and copper.  The fronts of these sinks also have many options available if you are looking to add artistic design within your kitchen.

  • Interior brick accents

Adding brick within your home always adds a warm feeling within any room.  A custom brick entry,  or brick flooring within a hall, bathroom or kitchen area create the perfect ambiance for your farmhouse plan.

  • Rugged hardwood floors, Rustic beams & Solid timber mantels

Hardwood floors have been around for centuries and including a distressed hardwood floor within your new custom home can bring about a sense of the old charm with a modern twist.  The same goes for rustic beams and Solid timber mantels.  Whether you are using a newly timbered beam or rare, rustic, reclaimed barn wood you are sure to find the perfect fit within your living space.

  • Tongue and groove wood plank ceilings

Using this application on your ceiling will give a nice gathered feeling as you engage in everyday living.  With all of the paint and stain colors available, you may choose to use a classic white paint or choose a stain to truly compliment the type of wood used in your installation.  A few of the wood selections you may want to consider include white oak, red oak, walnut, cherry or maple.


As you explore all of the possibilities and creative design ideas you may consider for your new custom home, be sure to discuss these with your builder so you are able to enjoy the home you want with all of the unique features you love.  Budgeting for customized additions within your home is a great way to plan and be prepared for building the custom farmhouse of your dreams!

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If you are living in a home that needs to be updated, or in the process of planning your dream home, an area you may want to ponder on is the bathrooms within your home. Depending on the year your home was built you may decide to remove and replace tiles, add a tile shower, take out a garden tub and replace with a large walk in shower, or a dual vanity, increase wall storage, or simply gut the entire bathroom and completely remodel the design from scratch.

If you are looking through house plans for the home you want to build, remember to discuss bathroom changes to your builder prior to construction.

Some things you may want to consider include:

  • Understanding how you utilize a bathroom – Do you prefer baths, or showers? For smaller bathroom spaces if you rarely use the garden tub, you may choose to replace this feature with a large walk in shower or combination shower/sauna unit. Once you know the space you have to work with, you can choose the number of shower heads, body spraying systems, shower seats, doorless entry, or select the type of glass you prefer with your shower doors. You may also want to incorporate built in niches within your shower space to avoid having to use wire racks to hold shampoos and bathing accessories.

  • Towel hanging systems – Towel hanging systems can include general hooks and rods to hang towels, to more advanced systems like heated towel systems. Making sure your design allows for function, you will want to consider placement of these features.

  • Linen Closet – Some bathroom designs include linen closets, while others do not. You may choose to store your towels within vanity cabinets or design a customized built-in to compliment your overall bathroom design. If you choose to customize a built in, there are multiple options, so review pictures online and discuss this with your builder so you optimize the space and add these customized areas within your home.

  • Water Closet – This is another area that can be overlooked when designing your new bathroom. More private style bathroom designs will have a water closet, or a walled area where the toilet is placed. Other designs may include a divider half wall, allowing for semi-private space or no wall at all. The preference you choose will help with the overall feel in the bathroom design.

  • Bathroom Vanity – When designing your bathroom, do you have space for a single vanity, dual vanity, vanity cabinets or pedestal sink? You also want to consider if your vanity will need a knee space or you may choose to add additional drawers or cabinets. Placement for clothes hampers, jewelry and make up storage will be important items to consider when laying out your bathroom design.

In addition to the actual design layout of your bathroom, there are plenty of other items you will need to consider when it comes to selecting the materials you will use within your new custom bathroom. Make sure to discuss these options with your builder or building consultant to maximize the customization process.

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The question arises from time to time regarding why there are different square footages listed on different versions of the same plans. These plans are created for specific purposes and in some cases the square footage measurements include items not included on other versions. With some customers assuming their own construction lending, this may be noticed when dealing with financial institutions, vendors and suppliers. In many cases the builder will be the one to assure the footages being quoted are accurate which is important with making sure your project stays within budget.

Many financial institutions, including banks, mortgage companies and finance brokers use the overall exterior wall footage when measuring and calculating square footage for appraisals, comps, etc. The reason for this is simple, they are typically lending money for the entire structure, so the building envelope is relevant to the loan involved. This square footage is calculated by using measurements that extend to the outside of the finished wall (brick, siding, stone, etc.). The appraiser will typically use this method to determine the heated footage, the unheated footage, the porch footage, and any other type of footage that could affect the loan amount, like future areas.

Sub-Contractors typically use a different measurement when estimating the labor that is required to construct certain components of the home, like framing, electrical, trim labor and paint. In these cases they will typically consider the interior wall footages (not including the exterior wall veneer). The reason for this has to do with the actual application of the product to be installed. For example the framer does not have to install a product to the outside of the brick veneer, but only to the outside of the wall sheathing. The vendor is not interested in the measurements to the outside of the walls.  Another example would include the trim carpenter. These subs will likely measure from the interior walls as well, for the same reasoning as the framer.

As you pass around the plans to the different people involved within the construction process, do not be dismayed when you see these possible footage differences. Dealing with reputable builders, vendors and financial institutions is an important factor with making sure you are dealing with people you can trust. The construction process can be a stressful time, but in the end you aren’t just building a home, you are building relationships and knowing the people you are working with may help ease your mind when it comes to assuring your investment will be within your budget and built the way you have envisioned. If you are unsure of any stage of construction ask your building consultant to assist you.  This is your home, and a good quality builder will take the time to educate you, as little or often as you prefer, throughout the process.

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What is Energy Star and how does it play into the efficiency of products you place within your new home?  According to the website, “ENERGY STAR is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.”  For over 20 years now the Energy Star label and name has been affecting home owners.  There is a misconception among Energy Star products which leads consumers to believe that any product with an Energy Star label is actually very efficient.  This is not necessarily the case.  The Energy Star system is a rating system and these displayed Energy Star stickers found on appliances and other products within the home simply means it has been rated, not automatically efficient or qualified.

If a product is found to be a qualified Energy Star product then you will discover it is found to be more efficient than the standard defined by the Energy Star program, this is the key question to ask when searching energy-efficient products.

So what does this mean?  To be considered energy-efficient the product should boast the best output with the least input; the product will be designed in a way to lower utility bills.  These products are typically more expensive based on materials involved with manufacturing; however cost is typically made up within the first couple of years.

An example of how the Energy Star efficiency works is to compare an electric and gas water heater.  The efficiency rating may be the same among these two products, however the gas system may recover faster, causing the water to heat faster.

As a consumer, you should consider asking the right questions to make sure you are going to benefit from the Energy Star products you place within your new custom home.  A few questions you should ask include:

  • Are the Energy Star appliances you are looking at qualified? This will help you determine if they meet the standards or if they exceed the code requirements for energy efficiency.  An example of this is insulation within Georgia, the code requires R13 Insulation in walls.  Some builders may install the minimum, other builders may exceed and install R15 Insulation or utilize R13 with added foam to increase the efficiency of the product installed.
  • Are mechanical systems designed by an engineer or the installer? If the system is designed by the installer, how do you know they are being installed to maintain the efficiency of the system?
  • Where will the water heater be located?  How long will you have to wait to get hot water?  In some cases the water heater is required to be within a 50ft distance from the faucet, if this unit is placed at 49ft. you may lose water efficiency even though the water heater is an efficient unit.
  • What type of windows will be installed and what are the ratings?  Different types of windows provide different ratings and overall efficiency.  Some window types include aluminum, wood, vinyl and vinyl clad.

Don’t just assume your products are the most efficient available simply because there is an Energy Star label on them.  Do your research and make sure to discuss your energy-efficient requirements with your building consultant.  Do your homework and install products truly designed to benefit your desired results.

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Did you know a commonly used wood siding product is available in a vinyl option?  Vinyl siding has been around for many years, and occasionally a particular style will make its way to the front line.  Among these include the traditional vinyl siding, vinyl shake siding, including staggered and cedar appearance styles and board-and-batten vinyl siding.

Board and batten vinyl siding gives the traditional look of vertical wood siding with the benefit of vinyl.  This type of siding comes in wide and narrow patterns and is designed to be practically maintenance free, meaning there is no need to ever have to paint as is necessary with traditional wood siding.  The colors available for this product are vast and this type of siding can be applied to the entire home, or used as an accent within certain parts of the exterior of the home.  The size of the board varies and the batten extrudes enough to give an architectural and dimensional look, while covering the gaps.

Choosing vinyl siding is really left to preference, and a few things to consider when making this choice come down to cost, maintenance and overall lifetime of product.    While the cost of vinyl siding is typically less expensive than wood siding, the benefits of low maintenance also plays a role in your decision.  In climates where there is more moisture it may be necessary to pressure wash the siding to keep a clean look throughout the years.  Many vinyl siding options include strong wind ratings, lifetime warranties and other eco-friendly qualities that you may consider to be valuable in your decision.

Board-and-batten siding is a great addition for mountain homes and adds flair to a coastal cottage elevation.  Discuss your home elevation with your building consultant and learn more about the available vinyl siding options for your new custom home.  Take a tour around several neighborhoods and see the board-and-batten style vinyl siding to visually see how this type of siding looks on different homes.  Using a reputable builder may assist with making sure you are using reliable siding vendors and installers.  As with any building product, the longevity and overall lifetime of the product is partially dependent on proper installation.

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Trim Accents can be a great way to add some custom flair to your new home! There are many different types of trim accents available and your building consultant will gladly assist you in making the best selections for your new home.

Here are some trim accents you may want to consider:

Wainscot (Beadboard) – Wainscot is the application of wood paneling on a lower portion of a wall. This is a typical application within custom homes. One type of paneling is Beadboard. This is an inexpensive addition adding a custom look within any home. This application can be applied to the back side of cabinets, breakfast bar and kitchen island locations as well as the standard areas. Other locations for beadboard may be in dining rooms, bathrooms or mudroom areas. You can choose to have the beadboard installed below a chair rail for an elegant look, or for more of a coastal cottage look you could choose to have the beadboard raised to a different height and trimmed out at the top with a simple 1” trim piece.

Cabinets – Cabinets have really adapted over the years from a simple staple to a center piece within our kitchens and baths. Cabinets can be transformed from the most basic of cabinets to an exceptional centerpiece offering raised patterns, several size trims, and multiple trim patterns including dentil or rope trim. Fluted accents are another great way to jazz up your cabinets. Let your building consultant help you design a beautiful kitchen or bath with some of these great trim accents.

Chair rail – Chair rail is typically installed within the dining room and is located at approximately 30” from the floor. The purpose of the chair rail is to offer a decorative trim while benefiting from the function of protecting the walls. As chairs are pushed and pulled they may scuff up the walls and by adding chair rail in these areas you can avoid the walls from being scuffed as much. You may choose to place a different color paint below or above the chair rail, or you may choose to install beadboard or other decorative trim accents in this area of your home.

Columns – Columns are another way to add separation within areas of your home, offering an upgraded custom look. Columns are available in different styles and sizes making any room beautiful. Common areas where these accents are found within the home may be at a doorway entrance into a dining room or library. Shorter columns can be added to half-walls, or full-sized columns can be added to wall accents to create the perfect place for your favorite piece of art. Columns can also be trimmed out with accents to offer a completely custom look. Other areas where columns add some flair is in the bathroom, around your garden tub or shower entrance. Including columns within your interior design adds a grand feel to any room, make sure to ask your building consultant to review your plan and make suggestions as you design your final floor plan.

Rosettes – Rosettes or other smaller trim accents, available with many patterns and sizes can also add a trim accent to many locations within your home. These are sometimes found at door locations, trimming out a cased opening, or at a fireplace surround, trimming out a fireplace.

Picture Frame or Judges Paneling – This is another way to trim out a portion, or all of a wall within any room in your home. Again, with the different types of trim available you will want to look at some options to see what design and style you might like best. This type of trim can be raised or inverted; it can also be applied in numerous options of width offering a truly customized option for any room. In dining rooms it may be incorporated with or without chair rail and it is a great accent to foyers, formal dining rooms and library/study areas. This has also become a popular addition to many ceilings, using a larger trim application to really add focus to this area.

Regardless of which trim accents you incorporate within your new home, there are certainly plenty of options and patterns to offer you a customized look within any room. Your building consultant will be happy to show you some options and discuss your plans in more detail.

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When it comes to choosing the right type of fireplace within your new custom home, understanding the available options may assist you with determining the best fit for you and your family. There are several types of fireplaces available, the most popular include electric, wood burning or gas supplied.

A wood burning fireplace can be designed as a full masonry fireplace. This traditional, classic way to create a fire burning area is designed with brick, stone or concrete. Wood burning fireplaces are designed with an 8” flue used to vent the heat out of the home. If the fireplace is designed to help heat the home, adding a blower motor is recommended. In this case, some of the heat would be pushed back into the home, while still allowing some of the heat to vent out.

If you have chosen a masonry fireplace, it will be possible to convert this fireplace to a gas fireplace at anytime in the future.  This may be a selling feature for those people who prefer gas over wood burning units.

Another type of wood burning unit is the pre-fab self-contained fireplace unit. These units come in many styles and sizes and are designed to allow for wood burning units to be installed while keeping costs low compared to a full traditionally built masonry fireplace. The prefab units can still have brick, stone or other surrounds and in most homes built today with wood burning fireplaces, the pre-fab unit is the common choice.

If you prefer a gas unit, there are still a few options to choose from. The vented gas log fireplace is a gas fireplace that is designed to vent out of the home.  This unit looks similar to the wood burning prefab unit, however has a 6” flue, therefore if you ever wanted to convert this gas fireplace back to a wood burning fireplace it would not be allowed, as wood burning fireplaces require an 8” flue.

Another type of gas fireplace unit is the ventless gas unit.  The ventless unit has no flue and while it burns more efficiently, these units are known to increase humidity in the room where the unit is being used.  It is recommended in these areas to crack a window or make sure other interior doors within the home are opened to assist with circulation of the by-product released into the air.  It is also recommended that these units are not installed in small areas, as it could promote mold growth due to moisture content in the air.

A direct vent gas unit is a commonly installed unit within many homes today.  The direct vent gas unit is a prefab unit which is sealed and designed to vent out of the house.  The vents are typically straight and either vent out of the roof, when the unit is on an interior wall and vent out of the wall to the exterior of the home when the unit is installed on an exterior wall.  If the unit is installed in an area within the home which would require the venting pipe to be anything other than straight, then a B vent fireplace is recommended.  This type of unit is designed with angles and can be useful with properly venting this type of unit.

Regardless of which type of unit you decide to install within your home, you will have plenty of options to design your fireplace surround.  Feel free to discuss your options with  your building consultant to select the best fireplace unit for your new custom home.

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For many years the most popular flooring was laminate flooring.  Once the tile rage made it to the stage of home improvements laminate flooring took a back seat, however with new technology laminate flooring is making a comeback for some modern-day homes.

When considering upgrade options for a new custom home, flooring is one area where tile is generally a standard for most hard-surfaced areas.  If this is the case you may choose to go with the standard tile available for your new build, or you may choose to exchange the standard tile for an upgraded laminate option.  The upgraded laminates today include many textured styles and multiple patterns that give the look, and in some cases an even better appearance of tile flooring or hardwood.

Technology has made laminate flooring more attractive.  Laminate flooring provides an option for those who are staying within a reasonable budget, without sacrificing style.  Keeping a tight budget can be an important part of any new home construction and with all of the available options within each area of the home make sure to consider laminate flooring as a budgetary option.

Vinyl flooring comes in sheets, and square tiles.  The tiles are available in several different sizes varying from 12-inch – 16 inch square and hardwood patterns as 36-inch sections more designed to look like planks of wood.

Laminate wood flooring is also a popular option to natural hardwood flooring, which can be quite a bit more expensive.  Laminate flooring is a synthetic multi-layered product that contains a moisture barrier, layers of fiber board and topped with a clear coat to provide the overall look of hardwood.  The lifetime of your flooring product depends some on the ongoing maintenance, so make sure to understand your product and use suggested cleaning methods to keep your floors looking beautiful for many years.

Once you have made the decision to use laminate or vinyl flooring in your new custom home, make sure to use reputable installers.  A trustworthy builder has vetted vendors and suppliers and is more likely to have worked through some issues that you, as a consumer, may not be aware of. Proper installation of flooring products may prevent undesired warranty claims or resolutions.

As you make the important decisions involved with building a new custom home, make sure to take time to educate yourself with products that are available and depend on reputable manufacturers, suppliers and vendors to deliver a finished room you are sure to enjoy.  Inquire with your building consultant to discuss available options for laminate and vinyl flooring within your home.

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