Residential Construction Mistakes You Can Avoid
While errors and oversights are a part of every profession, they can be especially costly in the construction business. By avoiding these common construction mistakes, you can improve a home’s quality, comfort and energy efficiency without incurring unwieldy costs.
- Running ductwork through unconditioned attics: According to the NAHB Research Center, you can reduce cooling and heating loads by 20 to 35 percent by running ductwork through conditioned space. This will also reduce ductwork length, since register locations will be more flexible. Just remember to wrap the ductwork with R-4 insulation to prevent condensation.
- Designing floor plans with no regard for site orientation: In all but the hottest climates, orienting the home to take advantage of natural lighting is generally best practice. Ideally, you should orient the structure so the long axis runs east to west. Place windows on the southern wall to promote winter gains. Size your roof overhang to bar summer sun, but accept lower angle light during the winter months. You should also consider placing primary living areas along the south wall, and storage or mechanical areas more to the north. Instead of energy-hogging skylights, try using tubular skylights or sun tubes to bring light into interior rooms or dark corners.
- Putting building wrap up without following the manufacturer’s instructions: Some builders are eager to put building wrap up as quickly as possible, without proper installation. Too often, this leads to drafty walls and floors, rotting window jambs, mildew and mold. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and overlap every seam in shingle fashion, at least 6 inches, to shed water. Make a tight bond by sealing your wrap using code-approved sheathing tape. You should also use appropriate fasteners and make inverted Y cuts when wrapping window openings.
- Sizing HVAC inappropriately: When builders use a rule-of-thumb calculation to size HVAC on today’s tighter building envelopes, they often end up with oversized systems with bigger upfront and long-term costs. What’s more, because they don’t dehumidify as well as properly sized systems do, oversized HVAC systems actually force occupants to pay more for discomfort. Avoid this problem by relying on ACCA’s Manual J calculations. It may take a couple of extra hours, but it will almost always lead to a smaller, less expensive system.
- Using a minimum amount of insulation: A poorly insulated home is louder, less comfortable and more expensive. Follow the U.S. Department of Energy’s recommended levels to avoid problems. How you install the insulation is just as important. For instance, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory reports that a wall’s R-value can drop 50 percent when insulation settles due to poor compression. Batt insulation should also fit snugly around electrical boxes and inside stud cavities. In oddly shaped places, cellulose may be more effective. Spray foam costs more; however, because it seals and insulates, you won’t have the added cost of air sealing and can more easily fill smaller nooks and crannies.
In these days of construction litigation, builders can’t afford to get it wrong. By dotting all the i’s and crossing every t, you can create higher-performing homes with higher market values.
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