This is always a buyer’s first question. You need to know what you are buying for your dollars. Pricing is based on list of upgrades and codes different than existing homes.
First is the land. New construction is scarce in urban neighborhoods because there aren’t many vacant lots, builders buy an old home, raise it, and start over. In suburban areas or farm country the land has to be developed. Roads installed, utilities, water, and sewage before building starts.
The way we live has changed dramatically since 2006. Yes, that’s right, 2006. Homes built today are more than 40% more energy efficient than homes built 11 years ago and much smarter.
Starting with the foundation, poured foundations are now standard. A frame is built, concrete is mixed, then poured into the frame. Poured walls have a compressive and flexural strength several times that of block foundation. Higher density and being joint free dramatically reduces water penetration. That means longer sustainability, and less maintenance over the life of the home.
Furnaces have a minimum requirement of 78% efficiency, 97% is near total efficiency. Something that you can’t even see is radiant heat in the basement floor. Hydronic radiant heating floor systems pump heated water from a boiler through tubing laid in a pattern under a hard surface floor. Concrete holds heat, and warms a home from the bottom up reducing the use of the gas furnace. If you’ve stepped your bare feet on warm bathroom tiles in a model home, that’s radiant heat. If you remember seeing upright radiators in older homes, that is the grandfather of today’s radiant heat. A side benefit is that it doesn’t blow air, dust or spores, and reduces allergens in the air. If you have allergies, you’ll want to know about radiant heat.
New windows are a modern tech miracle. The story is told by the NFRC rating label. Unless you are buying new windows, you wouldn’t have a clue. First, a U factor measures how well the window keeps heat from escaping from inside the room. Lower numbers are better, the range is between 0.20-1.20. Where it gets interesting is that there is an invisible film that reflects sun back out in summer, resisting up to 80% of the sun’s heat, and drawing it in during the winter. Solar Heat Gain Coefficient measures how well a product resists unwanted heat gain. Read that again. Range is 0-1, lower is better. Visible Transmittance measures how well the product effectively lights the home during the day, saving you money on lighting. If you remember grandma’s house with single pane windows, removable storms hung over it was pretty much like a hole in the wall. Highly performing new windows keep room temperatures consistent year round, light the home, and block UV rays. That is a wow.
New homes will use a combination of engineered wood (LP and Hardy Board) stone, stucco, or vinyl. LP board is an engineered wood treated to resist water, snow, sun, termites (or carpenter ants) and impact. If you’ve ever seen a vinyl sided home after a hail storm it looks like someone machine gunned it. Insurance companies will usually replace it, but it’s always better to have more resistant materials. LP has a resin saturated overlay to resist moisture, and a wax coating on each fiber, zinc borate to deter termites and fungal decay, and added binders to strengthen the wood against impact.
On top of it all is the roof. The hotter the roof, the more energy it takes to cool it in summer. Energy Star has rated roofs since 1999. Asphalt shingles are the hottest material available, but it is the most affordable. Dark roofs are hot roofs, dark colors absorb heat. Did you ever notice that people in tropical countries wear white? Dark roofs require up to 40% more energy to cool than light roofs. New shingles are designed with highly reflective granules that allow less heat to pass to space below, and with Stain Guard to protect against algae.
Without getting too much into Energy Star, R ratings, and Green lingo, most builders use a Blower Door test. A blower door is a machine used to measure air tightness of a home. It’s a flexible panel that fits into a door frame, measures air pressure outside and inside, and a manometer (I did not make up that word) to locate air leaks inside the home. National builders will test a model home as a standard, and some custom builders will check every single home.
You must be overwhelmed by now if you aren’t an engineer. These are just a few points that go into building a new home. What you’re buying isn’t obvious at first glance. Most of it will go over your head the first time you hear it, and won’t sink in until you do a final walk through with the super intendant.
New and better technology makes better machines and materials to serve us. That will continue to evolve, and improve both performance and sustainability. The end result is a gorgeous home that assures you comfort and sustainability for many years to come. The next time you hear, “They just don’t build them like they used to,” you can smile to yourself.