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Dos and Don'ts When Building a New House

The plot

The plot

Building a New Home: First Impressions

When you decide to build your own house, you are in for quite a ride. By the time you’re halfway there, you’ll probably wish you never started in the first place. But when the house is done . . . well, all those little details you thought of and debated on in your head for so many nights will be absolutely priceless. It’s not just a house; it’s your house—it was made for you, perfectly shaped to your desires. But you have to get there, and that’s a bit tricky, at least without going out of your mind.

Getting Started

The way you start the process has a lot to do with whether or not you have any idea about the construction world. If you are a builder, well, this article is certainly not for you since you are already in on all the tricks of the trade.

If you have any connection to the construction world, this is for you, but let me tell you—being in on it makes it harder because you are aware of a lot of things that can go wrong, and also you’ll try to manage every little detail, and that can turn on you.

If you have no insight into construction, the first thing you need to do is hire a good architect/engineer with experience on the subject and have him follow the construction from start to finish.

The Project/Technical Expertise

It is indispensable to have technical advice when you are building a house. Forget what your neighbour or brother did; you want an independent person with technical knowledge to do the project and see you through the construction. It’s better to pay a little more and have this guidance. Also, you need to tell everyone involved what you want, but leave the specifics to the technicians. Have them find the solutions. What interests you is the finished product; that must meet your expectations.

If you try to oversee every little detail, you will probably get very confused very fast, and you’ll also be putting into question the know-how of the architect/engineer. If he/she is good, you shouldn’t do this because he/she knows what they are doing.

Foundation slab

Foundation slab

You might ask: how do I know the architect/engineer is any good? How do I pick one?

First, it’s a good thing if you have recommendations. If you do, have a meeting with the person. Talk about your expectations and your likes and dislikes. Ask to see some of the projects the technician carried through and see if you like the design.

If you find yourself in a meeting, and all you see is the absolute opposite of what you want, forget about it; just walk out the door because you will be clashing with the technician every step of the way.

Then you need to find out if the technician you choose has any experience in actual construction. It is very important that he is used to actual building because otherwise, he will not know how to balance the design with reality, how to balance the various engineering projects, the structure with the thermal insulation, with the acoustic, with the ventilation, and it goes on and on.

Open space before the first slab.

Open space before the first slab.

You see, strange as it may seem, a lot of times, the different projects for a house clash. It shouldn't happen, but it does. Imagine, to have good ventilation, you'll probably be lowering your acoustic insulation. So, it’s very important to balance everything. A technician who is only used to dealing with drawings and paperwork will not have the sense to balance the various specifications considering your requirements.


Once you choose a technician, you need to start thinking about the design and about what is important for you. If the architecture of the house is at the top of your list, other things, like thermal insulation or acoustic or even the solar panels you want, must follow. It is of the utmost importance to think about your comfort, and comfort has very little to do with architectural design.

You must consider, for instance: Are there neighbours around? Will I hear their noise? Do I mind the noise? If silence is important for you, you must consider increasing acoustic insulation and special glass for your windows and all your requirements you must convey to the engineer, so that he takes your demands into consideration.

First floor slab done, going to the second one.

First floor slab done, going to the second one.

Balancing Your Budget With Your Needs

Building a house is not something you do every day, so it’s best to spend a little more and have it your way, than to spend two or three years after the construction thinking you should have done it another way. It's much cheaper to do something during the construction than to do undo it and redo it afterward.

At the same time, you have to make a priority list because most probably, as soon as the construction starts (if not before), you’ll find out your original budget has gone through the roof, so it’s only natural you’ll have to give some things up, at least for a little while, so it’s good to know what’s a priority.

You must also consider that during construction, you’ll probably have to add things you never thought of, or you’ll probably be dragged into that reasoning of “oh, well, this cost just a bit more of what I thought, so why not? I like this one better anyway…” – the problem is that all the little bits added make for quite a bit more.

terrace waterproofing

terrace waterproofing

The Contractor

Once you have all the projects in place and a proper building permit, it’s time to think about a builder. Now, this is hard work. Have your architect/engineer help out. He probably knows builders and also knows who does the work properly or not.

Always choose a certified builder, and try not to choose the builder based only on who gave you the cheapest quote. This is a frequent mistake, going for the lowest quote and it can have several possible outcomes:

  1. The builder does not have the technical expertise required, and the construction work will not have the quality you imagined.
  2. During construction, the builder will often point out that this or that was not included in the quote and that you must pay extra, so at the end of the day, the cheapest quote may end up being the most expensive one.
  3. In the middle of construction, the builder just disappears with whatever money he received from you, and you’ll have an unfinished house on your hands and probably much less money than you needed to find a proper builder and finish it.

These are just the three possibilities I’ve encountered most often, but there are certainly many more.

Make sure you see some of the construction work the builder did, not just new houses, where everything is still shiny, but 10-year-old houses. Be sure to talk to some other owners to see if the builder is reliable and honest.

Be aware that some builders think the projects are not done to be followed and that they know better. You must stress that it is imperative that all projects are followed and that you will not stand for it being otherwise.

Finally, when you read the various quotes, make sure that everything is written on it; you need to have the price, but also a thorough description of what is being done every step of the way. The sort of quotes (and I’ve seen them) that mention something like “building a house of 300 sqm”, “painting the house”, “carpentry”, “plumbing”... “that much...”, are the sort of quotes you should run from.

And always, always sign a contract; everything has to be in writing.

Second slab done.

Second slab done.

Finally, Building . . .

Once all of the above are done, it’s time to actually start building. Here is when you need to take it easy.

You need to make sure your engineer/architect is in on the start and that he will oversee the construction. When I say oversee, I’m not talking about going to the construction site once a month for 5 minutes. I’m talking about at least once a week ( in some stages more) and accompanying you; to hear your doubts, to make sure your demands are being met, to make sure the projects are being followed, to answer questions the builder’s workers may have.

You will also need to go to the construction site yourself on a daily basis, if possible. Sometimes it takes just a few hours to do a mistake that afterward can be quite difficult to undo. Sometimes it takes just misreading a part of a project or reading it differently from what was intended. Different people, different views.

Don’t choose all the materials at the beginning of the construction. As the construction advances, you will have it clearer in your mind what you really want. Sometimes, people just want to get it over with and buy everything at once; the sooner, the better. It’s much easier to imagine what the house will be after the walls are up, and you have a better notion of the actual dimensions.

Visit the house, and then go home and imagine how you think a certain bathroom will turn out and how you would like it to look. After you thought about it and made up your mind, go to the store and choose the different materials you need. If imagining is not for you, try to get some help at the store, show them the plans and ask for some opinions.

If it’s a good store, they will help out a lot and even narrow down the extensive choice selection there is, based on your taste, budget, and style of house. This can be a plus because sometimes you can really get lost in the middle of all the tiling, sanitary ware, and whatever else you need.

Working on the roof.

Working on the roof.

Create Trust With Your Builder

The builder knows his trade. If you chose well, you shouldn’t worry so much if everything is being done properly and you should leave to the experts most of the decisions of how to do this or that or what kind of material to use. If you try to check every detail, the house will probably be nightmare material before you are through.

Oversee, obviously, but let them do their job. Also, this will save you time, worries and you will only have to consider the finishing materials of the house, basically the aesthetics.

Make sure the builder is sticking to the calendar for the construction and that he is not falling behind. Sometimes it’s necessary to remind the building company of the schedule in the contract.

It seems never-ending. When you've nearly reached the end, it will seem that every day, the house is the same—you start fidgeting because you want it done; you want to move in, and it seems nothing is happening. Pace yourself. This is when you should try to relax. The finishings of a house are very important; it’s what you first notice when you look at it, and it can only be done properly if done with time. It’s important the tiles are not crooked; it’s important the paintwork doesn’t have any flaws. Prepare yourself for this stage and let the experts do their work.

The end.

The end.

The Finished Product

As soon as you get the final set of keys from the builder and write him his last check, it will seem that a weight was lifted off your shoulders—you saw the project through. It’s done. It’s time to enjoy all the little details and obviously show off the house.

And for sure, it’s time to move in. After all you have been through, forget about doing the move yourself, just hire a removals company—and start dreaming about your next house. After all, it is at the exact moment you finish the first one that you understand what you should have done differently, no matter the advice you had.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Joana e Bruno


Joan on March 02, 2018:

Be patient, almost everything takes longer then you think it will.

TrayDon4 on May 16, 2016:

Getting started is, without a doubt, the toughest part. I'm glad for posts like these and the fact that the Internet has made it easier to find more, better information on the home building process because, frankly, I've met plenty of people who had no clue what they were getting themselves into. If you're looking for a step-by-step guide, you can check one out here: I also know that b4ubuild has a really nice guide, too. Designers and builders are doing a better and better job of creating good content so people can have a better idea of what they're getting into before they decide to build a home from scratch.

Joana e Bruno (author) from Algarve, Portugal on April 03, 2013:

Hello, Isko K, good advice, even if you are not directly involved in the construction work you really need to take some time off, otherwise it's impossible... all the decisions, all the new stuff you have to learn to have an idea of what your house will be, all the worrying if everything is being done correctly, if it will look alright... Anyway, thanks a lot for reading and commenting and take care!

Isko K on March 29, 2013:

One thing I'd like to share with people who have not built yet, was the best single point of advice we received from another family who had built before us:

Especially when you (and your family) take part in the work after your regular working hours... name an evening from the week that is carved hard as the (only...) free time during your building week. Choose the evening beforehand, don't shift it and don't bargain with it. It will make the difference between success and exhaustion.

OsFlamengos on April 28, 2012:

Building a new house in Portugal is indeed a great adventure because unfortunately too much persons/technicians/administrations involved have a

hidden agenda ! Only when your architect and engineer are your best friends then you can make the jump ! If not you'll have the worsest nightmare in your life.

Joana e Bruno (author) from Algarve, Portugal on March 21, 2012:

Hello, thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you liked it. The photos were a bit hard to pick, because I had hundreds and every detail seemed important, but I didn't want to overload the article. Obviously, this is a concrete structure and in a lot of places building is different, a lot of places use wood structure or steel structure, but independently of that I think the issues are basically the same when you are building, so.. Hope it is useful, because it is a very big investment. Have a good day! :)

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on March 21, 2012:

Great tips and advice and the photo are terrific. Voed up, interesting and useful.

Joana e Bruno (author) from Algarve, Portugal on January 28, 2012:

Hello, fortunatelly it all went well, it's done... But we had to check everything every step of the way. I hope you were able to solve your problem and that everything turned out okay in the end. Thanks for reading and commenting.

mljdgulley354 on January 27, 2012:

Hopefully the construction guy knows the permitting process for your new home. We ran into that problem when we built our home

Joana e Bruno (author) from Algarve, Portugal on December 05, 2011:

Thank you for your feedback. I'm glad you liked it and I really hope this article can help other people.

Kate P from The North Woods, USA on December 04, 2011:

Voted up, useful, and interesting! Great photos, layout, information, and tips. It's obvious you spent lots of time and effort composing this, and it's really paid off. Bravo.