22 Apr 2014
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Budget Decisions - Beauty is Only Skin Deep

When building or remodeling our homes, we are faced with a tremendous number of decisions and choices regarding everything from countertops and appliances to tile selections and plumbing fixtures. Our personal preferences play a huge role in these decisions, because we know what we like (or usually do)! However, our dream choices are too often tempered by reality - those darn budget constraints. As Mick would sing, "You can't . . . always get . . . what you want. But if you try sometime, you just might find, you'll get what you need." (Be thankful you can't hear me singing this).

Visible vs. Hidden Value. So if we can't have it all, where do we splurge and where do we exercise restraint? Not surprisingly, these decisions almost always focus on what can be seen (particularly in Dallas!) - the visually pleasing, the finishes, fixtures or appliances that we can touch, feel and show off to our friends. But what if, by doing so, we are missing something really important? What about those wise old sayings, like: "Beauty is only skin deep." "You can't judge a book by its cover." "Man looks at outward appearances, but God examines the heart." "It's just as easy to marry a rich girl as a poor girl" (oh, never mind that last one). So how does this apply to houses, you ask?!?

Short-Term Beauty vs. Long-Term Durability What if we over-prioritize and are so focused on the visual design decisions – products quite frankly that will get dirty, outdated, or worn out within 5-10 years - that we are skimping on the choices of products that will last the lifetime of the house (and even largely determine or greatly impact the length of that life)? Your home is one of the most valuable investments you will have, and (other than location and square footage) its long-term durability and value are primarily based on its:

  • Foundation
  • Structural framing, and
  • Weatherproofing - roofing, flashing, drainage (protecting the building envelope) I know, doesn't sound too exciting or sexy, does it! However, if any of these is compromised or neglected, the durability, livability, enjoyment and resale value of the home will be significantly damaged (along with the reputation of the builder). As to the solidity of the foundation and keeping the weather out, such imperatives have been around since building began. Remember the parable of the two houses, one built on sand and one on the rock? Which one stood when the waters came?

Structural Framing– It's Critical! Among the three components, the most under-appreciated is the structural framing. Perhaps this is because it is usually hidden and the dangers of cracks in the foundation and the dampness, decay and mold of poor weatherproofing are much more urgent and obvious to the homeowner.

So what exactly is structural framing? In homebuilding, it is typically wood or engineered lumber and it includes the floor systems (girders, joists and subfloor), wall assemblies (studs, headers, plates and sheathing), ceiling joists, and roof structure (rafters, purlins and decking). As you begin to think about the structural framing, you will soon realize that everything you value about the finish details of your home literally hangs on it. In fact, the finish details depend upon the stability of these components for their lasting beauty and durability. For example, if the structural framing moves:

  • Cracks develop above doorways and doors don't close or lock well
  • Floors squeak or bounce
  • Tiles crack and grout joints open up
  • Drywall cracks and caulked joints open up.
  • In more serious cases, ceilings sag, walls lean, and floors dipsy do. These are the things that really irk us homeowners and are typically the things we try to fix right before we sell our house. Why do we try to fix these? Because they directly affect the perceived quality and value of our home! Such things aren't supposed to happen in a well-built, quality home, right?!

Reducing Our Risk. So what can we do about it? Wood is wood, a commodity, right? Is it just the luck of the forest where I hope the straight lumber gets nailed into my house? Did I get a good batch of studs today? How can I tell? What are those stamps, numbers and symbols printed on the boards – do they matter? How can I increase my odds and better my chances? What role does my carpenter play?

Fortunately, you actually do have a LOT of options here - even though few builders discuss these with their clients. Sadly, beyond the floor systems and basic span charts, not many builders or even architects are very knowledgeable about the many choices in grades and species of lumber that can significantly increase the quality and durability of your structural framing. Choices and upgrades that are surprisingly economical, given the huge impact they will have on the enjoyment and long-term value of the home. Tune in to our next few blogs as we discuss these choices in more detail.

Until then just remember, if you want to build to last and protect your investment, don't neglect the structural framing in your home – we at Davis-Hawn are here to help you make the best value choices.

Build to Last!

Dave Reichert

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