When I think of building a new home for myself and my family, the first thing that comes to mind is a big, honking, six-burner, stainless steel commercial-style range with dual ovens, a warming drawer, and more knobs and dials than the cockpit of a 747.
But that’s me.
You’ve got your own vision of Shangri-La: A totally kicking laundry room with plenty of storage and — oh yes — a skylight! Or a master bedroom blissfully isolated from the hubbub of everyday family life.
That’s what’s great about buying a home before it’s actually built. You can dream big, and your options are almost limitless.
But your budget isn’t.
So what to choose?
After years as a builder and cabinetmaker, I’ve learned a thing or two about upgrades. So here’s my advice on choosing upgrades:
Put your upgrade money here and you’ll never regret it. After all, your kitchen is where you and your family spend lots of time, and you’ll want it to be functional, durable, and a joy to be in.
Moving up from standard cabinets to semi-custom gives you way-better construction and longer-lasting finishes. You’ll get a wide range of colors and styles to choose from, lots of storage options, and long-lasting details such as dovetailed drawer joinery and cool hardware.
For bells and whistles, you can get extra-tall upper cabinets that reach all the way to the ceiling. You’ll nab extra storage space, plus you won’t have to dust the tops.
Spring for premium hinges and drawer slides. Soft-close door and drawer hardware stands up to abuse for many years, and will help keep your upgraded cabinets in top shape.
The better the carpet, the better it’ll stand up to traffic and maintain its good looks. You’ll also get a wider choice of styles and colors. Wool is my favorite; it’s a little less forgiving of red wine spills (been there), but it’s long-lasting and feels great.
While you’re at it, you’ll want to upgrade your carpet pad, too. Standard pads have minimal cushioning; better pads increase the lifespan of your carpeting. Frothed polyurethane, slab rubber, and natural fiber pads are considered non-toxic pads with low VOCs.
You can’t go wrong with wood flooring — it’s one of the few materials that just refuse to go out of style. It has warmth, blends with any décor, and makes you feel like Lord (or Lady) Grantham just looking at it. Put it where everyone can appreciate it — living room, great room, and your kitchen.
Oak is a failsafe option that’ll always look good and tends to be lower cost than more exotic woods.
Sometimes overlooked amid all the new house options, ceiling fans are a smart, low-cost upgrade that add lots of energy-saving comfort. They’ll help keep you cool so you don’t need to use your AC as much, saving you as much as $165 in energy costs over the life of the fan.
Ceiling fans come in lots of styles — from sleek futuristic designs to Victorian reproductions — so they even can be a room focal point. They’re great in bedrooms and family rooms.
The skylights in our house are family favorites. They’re “feel good” features that work quietly in the background of daily life, bathing the interior with a soft, natural light.
A skylight adds about 30% more light than a window of comparable size.
No need to worry about too much sunlight — you can get skylights that have built-in shades that you can operate manually or by remote control. Fancier skylights open up (great for air circulation) and have auto sensors that close the canopy if rain is detected.
This is your chance to really make your house your home. So ask yourself: What upgrade would really make your new home yours?
That commercial range I want? It’s on my upgrade list.
What’s on yours?
Learn more about the benefits of a newly built home.
And find out how to plan for future needs at the same time your planning your want-to-do list.
John Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He's been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
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