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Mailbag: Onsite Storage, Change Orders, Finishes, Cabinets, Inexpensive Upgrades

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Let's answer some questions from our readers:

Ask a builder

How and when to store things on site?

Storing materials on site can be tricky. You want to avoid having to move them multiple times, want them out of everyone's way, and also don't want them to get stolen. For smaller items, many builders get a job box and bolt it to the floor. You just have to make sure it's in a location that's out of the way for as long as possible. For larger materials, garages are the go-to spot for storage because they're dry and mostly out of the way. If theft is a problem in the area though, you'll need to install the garage door earlier than you want (risking damage) or screw in some plywood to the inside of the garage portal opening (closing up the easiest access to the house in some cases). If a garage is not available, you might have to get creative. On a large enough build, it's sometimes worth it to set up a fenced in staging area and keep materials protected from rain/sun. Otherwise you're likely going to have to move materials around a bunch of times to make it work, which is not ideal.

How do you avoid change orders?

I would say the three most important factors here are planning, communication, and budget. We have our customers pick out everything that's going into their house before we ever break ground. That floating sink you picked out last minute is great, but you might not realize it needs steel brackets attached to the framing to hang it from the wall and that framing has to be in the right spot to accept those brackets. The more you can plan up front, the less changes you'll need to make later.

Communicating expectations is another huge one. Do you know the standards that your builder adheres to? Our local homebuilders association has a book of industry standards to follow, but what if you want something better than that? Are you ok that any drywall/paint imperfection you can't see from straight on 6 feet away is within tolerances? Did you know that most AC systems are only designed to provide a 20 degree difference from outside air? So on a 100 degree day, your home might only be designed to cool to 80 degrees. Having these discussions with your builder, especially about aspects of your home that are really important to you, are a huge factor in avoiding change orders.

Having some margin in your budget is also a huge one. If your build is at the max of your budget before you even start, you're going to have a bad time. Things change, unforeseeable problems pop up, and you're inevitably going to want to add to the scope. Make sure you have a good contingency in your budget to allow for these things.

Where should I look for finishes (flooring, paint colors, fixtures, etc.)?

Wherever you find your inspiration. Your designers and builders can take your ideas and source them. There's nothing wrong with showing your designer a picture on Instagram, Pinterest, wherever. Many designers and builders will have vendors they prefer to work with, but most will still be able to source something elsewhere if it's what you want. Here are a few of my current favorite inspiration sources:


Light Fixtures

Plumbing Fixtures


Why are cabinets so expensive?

Cabinets have a relative high cost of raw materials and skilled labor. Current on Home Depot's website, one sheet of birch plywood (one of the most commonly used woods for cabinets) is $81, and one sheet isn't enough to build most sizes of cabinets. The finish has to be extremely durable with the wear and tear cabinets go through, so it's not just something you go to your local paint store and brush on yourself. The hardware, like soft close hinges and slides, are also pretty expensive. Then if you look at the labor side of it, cabinet builders need an array of expensive equipment to cut, shape, and assemble your cabinets. Then you're also paying them for the install. In the end, it all adds up.

Custom Cabinets Costs

What are some relatively inexpensive upgrades I can make in my house?

Paint is a great place to start. Changing colors or just having a fresh coat can make a big difference. I also would suggest using the same color in a room on the walls, trim, and ceiling but using a flat sheen on the walls and ceiling and semi-gloss on the trim. I would use a washable paint on the walls like Sherwin Williams Duration so that it's easier to clean as life happens.

Hardware is also a pretty easy and impactful upgrade. Changing out the door hinges, cabinet hardware, and even door knobs can make a big impact on a space. They're also pretty easy to do yourself.

Lighting is the last one I would mention. A new fixture here and there can really transform a space. Try to match the style of light for the style of home you have (I see way too many mid century modern fixtures in non-mid century modern houses). Try to get bathroom mirror lighting at face level and be mindful of the color of your bulbs (measured in Kelvin). I generally use 2700k in darker rooms and exterior spaces and 3000k everywhere else.

What is something in construction that is way more expensive than everyone thinks it will be?

Everything. A shrinking labor pool combined with rising material costs and the general interest in home projects has made everything so much more expensive than it used to be. If I had to choose one project though, it would be upgrading from a deck to a screened porch. In Atlanta, a standard pressure treated deck might cost you somewhere around $35/sqft, but a screened porch will easily be 3x as much or more once you factor in the added walls, screens, roof, other trades, etc.

Porch addition cost

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