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Must-have Details for a New or Remodeled Home

  • Posted: 05.26.2020
Photo of crane lifting roof truss to a house top
Image: Nick Sesker, Nick Sesker Construction LLC

You may have plans for building a new home, adding on to your existing home or undertaking a remodeling project.

Before you hire a contractor to begin the project, have a list of best practices you want your contractor to include. Nick Sesker, Nick Sesker Construction, Ogden, and former Iowa Central Community College Home Building Instructor, shared his secrets to successful home building with other builders and remodelers at the Momentum Is Building Conference sponsored by your electric cooperative.

And now he shares details with our cooperative members so you can ensure your contractor addresses these important features. Next month, Nick will share a list of questions to ask building contractors before you hire a company.

Start with a strong foundation
Many home problems begin with basement or foundation moisture issues. To prevent water problems, it pays to ensure your home’s foundation is based on practices that keep your basement watertight.

These practices include:

  • A final grade, sloping away from the home, that is 10-12 inches below the top of the foundation, allowing 10-12 inches of exposed foundation.
  • A continuous foundation footing drain system with clean stone backfill for good drainage.
  • Backfilling around the footing tile with clean stone (no sand, no clay).
  • Installing a sealed vapor barrier of 10 mil poly topped by rigid foam insulation below the concrete basement floor (this keeps cold from seeping through, this is an insulation measure as well as a way to keep moisture from entering through the floor, too).
  • Installing a sealed sump pump basin which also becomes part of the home’s radon mitigation system. Note that the sealed vapor barrier below the floor is also part of the radon system.
  • Install continuous damp proofing on the exterior of the foundation wall.
  • Install a capillary break between the house footing and foundation wall. This will prevent ground water from wicking through the concrete to cause a wet foundation.

Seal the home’s exterior
Again, there are some steps that are essential to keeping your home comfortable and safe. Nick recommends making sure these procedures are followed by your contractor:

  • Insulate properly. You probably know that insulation is critical to keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. However, you may not realize that applying insulation to the exterior of your home’s walls is an excellent way to update insulation on both older and new homes. Yes, that’s correct: In addition to adding cavity insulation inside walls, construction experts are now building and retrofitting by adding insulated wall sheeting beneath the siding on the exterior of the house. This process has several plusses, including adding a higher R-value than simply filling the gaps between studs and it provides a “thermal break,” which stops the transfer of warm or cold through the framing members. In retrofits, there are some modifications that will need to be made to fit siding around windowsills and other openings.
  • Apply flashing the right way. This is an area where subcontractors may take shortcuts, according to Nick. The correct way to apply house wrap, step flashing and window flashing is to ensure the materials are applied shingle-style. This allows water to drain down the surface rather than allowing it to wick into moisture sensitive materials such as insulation or wood framing. Shingle-style means that the flashing or wrap must be lapped like shingles on a roof to force water to slough off the lapped material.
  • Add a rain screen to a stone veneer. If you plan to side a part of your home with cultured stone, be sure your contractor understands that a rain screen must be installed behind the stone, and that it must be properly installed so water can escape out the bottom of the screen.

Size your heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) system correctly
Your HVAC system is one of the most expensive—and most critical—systems in providing comfort and energy efficiency in your home. But too often contractors take shortcuts in determining the size and configuration of the units they recommend to homeowners. Rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach, be sure your contractor performs "Manual J" calculations before recommending a unit for your home. A Manual J calculation determines the heating and cooling loads of a home or building to understand the capacity of HVAC equipment needed.

As Nick explains, there are hundreds of details that must work together as a system, including insulation, the amount of air sealing, the size and type of the furnace/air conditioning unit you purchase, ventilation and more.

In addition, before selecting an HVAC system, contact us to find out details about rebates and to request information on the value of geothermal, air-source heat pumps and mini-splits. We can also provide names of reputable local contractors.

Source: Nick Sesker, Nick Sesker Construction. Contact Nick through his Facebook page at Nick Sesker Construction LLC