Building a custom home is quite an adventure.

  • It's the most costly purchase you will ever make
  • You are buying something that does not yet exist
  • You will be asked to make a million important decisions
  • It is very important that it turns out just right
  • It will require many hours of time and attention

If you have been apprehensive about this project, these reasons may explain why! We have all heard the horror stories about people who run into trouble building their custom home. Fortunately, their problems are almost always caused by the same few things:

  • Choosing the wrong people to work with
  • Inaccurate cost estimating
  • Inefficient communication
  • Not spending the time necessary to do the job right

We have worked to eliminate these obstacles from our processes and have developed a system that works like a charm. Remember, however, that whenever people are creating something new, like a home design that has never been built before, there will always be an occasional "surprise." Sometimes surprises turn into special and wonderful features. Sometimes they need to be rethought. A more sophisticated systems approach helps to increase predictability in prototype projects such as custom home building. Relax and enjoy the process. It will probably make the short list of important life experiences and it will be more fun if you relax and enjoy it.

Be An Effective Member Of The Building Team

As the homeowner, you are a valuable asset to the building project. You are an extra set of eyes and ears for your builder, and your involvement in the process is important. We encourage you to visit your building site regularly and observe the progress.

One of the most important contributions you can make to the building process is having your finish material choices ready in plenty of time. Building is a linear process and not having one item when it's needed can slow up the whole project. Stay in close contact with your contractor for updates on when the various choices will be needed, or better yet, make your decisions early as much as possible. See our Finish Schedule for guidelines on what finishes need to be decided upon first.

If you have the time and the interest to contribute to the success of your building project, there is one thing that always needs to be done...clean-up! Subs, in general, are not the best at cleaning up after themselves; part of your contractor's job is to oversee this, but it's a thankless, never-ending job! If you feel like sweeping, picking up scraps, nails, cans etc. or straightening up outside, you will make the project site a safer, more pleasant working environment. You can always ask your contractor if there is something that needs to be done. A couple extra hands are often appreciated on a job site. Or an errand-runner can be quite a help. Of course this is totally optional.

The Stage Of The Uglies

Since most people are not familiar with construction, visiting a job site can be a little confusing at times. When a subcontractor is in the middle of a job, it often gets messy. We call this "the stage of the uglies." What looks uncertain to you is probably just the way the job is done, so there is no need for concern. Occasionally a subcontractor makes a mistake, and it will be caught by your contractor and corrected at no cost to you. This is a rare occurrence, however so your best approach is as an observer, not an inspector. Talking to the subs, asking questions, giving them orders or following them around with a tape measure only slows them down and makes them nervous and irritable. They will do a better job if you are friendly, but let them do their work. Direct any questions or concerns to your contractor, not the sub.

*Important: Subcontractors are part of your contractor's responsibility and need to take their orders from your contractor, not you. If you have any changes to your plans or changes to the work they are doing, discuss it with your contractor.

Optical Illusions

While we cannot explain the science behind this, we know it to be true. When your foundation and sub floor goes in, before the walls go up, the "footprint" of your home will probably look tiny to you. You will think there must be some mistake! Your new home could not possibly be so small! Measuring will give you the answer. It's correct! It is strange but true. Homes look very small at this stage.

Then the walls go up. Suddenly the place look palatial. Phew, you are relieved! But…

Then the drywall goes in and it looks tiny again.! Don't worry, it will be fine!

You will go through these gyrations a few more times during construction. We hope that knowing this ahead of time helps. If you figure out the law of physics that causes this, please let us know.

Ordering Your Own Materials

Occasionally, special circumstances occur that require you to order and pay for a special fixture or appliance separately. If this is necessary, please make arrangements for payment and delivery so that the special order is at the site on time. Down time can add up quickly on a job site, and that costs money. You don't want a plumber sitting and having a Coke at $30 an hour while you run to pick up a sink he is supposed to be installing. Your contractor will keep you informed of the schedule and when they need these materials.

Changing Your Mind

Changes can be expensive, depending on when they are made. All changes need to go through your contractor. They will write up a "Change Order" and make arrangements to have the work done. The way to avoid changes is to study your plans thoroughly before construction begins. Changes are cheapest on paper. If you need to make a change after construction begins, alert your contractor as soon as possible so they can implement it at the best possible time and keep any extra costs to a minimum.


Several official inspections occur during construction; for your lending institution, city and county regulations. We have a construction checklist that we can provide as a tool to use with your contractor to prompt you on the specifics for the various inspections. Your contractor is ultimately in charge of this and will order the official inspections and arrange to have them completed.

Schedule / Budget Reviews

As your home is being built, we suggest that you and your contractor have regular meetings to review the schedule and the budget. Many times these conversations occur spontaneously at the job site, but there are times when it is necessary to meet at the office to discuss the status of your project. Consider us your professional agent during construction. We will interface with your builder to answer questions or provide technical support for the panels as well as any other building questions that might arise. Encourage your builder to call us with questions any time, especially while your SIP structure is going up. We will have discussions with your builder and send them manuals ahead of time. This should be all that is needed for the framing portion of your project to run smoothly.

Communicating With Your Contractor

Some people are more communicative than others. This goes for contractors too. We suggest that you choose a contractor that you feel comfortable talking to. If you find yourself wanting to know more than the contractor is offering, give him/her a call! Most of the time contractors put their energies into running their jobs and, while they may not think to call you as much as you would like, they are happy to give you an update as frequently as you need one. As with any other business arrangements, however, it is most prudent to get any important communication down in writing.

Advice from Some Past Sunlight Clients

We have learned a lot about designing and building custom homes from talking to our clients during and after their projects. He are a few things we hear frequently:

As you proceed through construction, expect an occasional unexpected event to occur. Mistakes are sometimes made, or sometimes things do not look exactly the way you thought they would. Don't worry. Any mistakes will be corrected and things can be changed during construction if necessary. Almost every problem has a solution and will be resolved.

Stay flexible and positive. This one tip could make the difference between an enjoyable project and a very stressful one. It does not mean that you have to compromise your standards. Your attitude will affect everyone working on your project, so if you stay flexible, positive and supportive everyone on your project will benefit.

Your home will go through many stages while under construction. Some of these stages are messy. Be prepared for the messy stages and know that this too shall pass.

Every building project has it's own personality, based on the personalities of all of the people involved. If you make it your job to keep communication levels high and attitudes positive, those feelings will filter down throughout your project. Show up to your job site with refreshments for the workers. Encourage, support and compliment them. You will be happy with the results if you do.

Selection Schedule

You will be asked to make many decisions on finish materials during the construction of your home. Having these decisions ready when your builder needs them will keep your project moving on schedule. We recommend that you start shopping early! Visit manufacturers online and local showrooms. Collect brochures and specification sheets for the products you choose. Your builder will need all of this information later.

The following is a list of the items you will need to select. They are listed in the approximate order in which they will be needed. Show this list to your builder because s/he might have a different preference for when the decisions are needed.

You builder will need the following information of the items you choose:

Company name, phone + fax numbers, contact person, name and model number of item(s), price, size (exact dimensions) and color. Also, find out if the item is in stock or if it needs to be ordered and, if so, the lead time. You may use our Finish Decisions form (in the Worksheets section) to keep track of your choices.

Materials/Decisions Needed During Framing:

  • finish roofing material (they will want to get your home "dried in")
  • garage door(s)
  • exterior finish (siding, stucco, wood, etc.)
  • security system (will prewire once structure is up)
  • cabinets (these often need lead time and can be measured as soon as the structure is up)
  • built-in appliances (not free-standing, only built-in because dimensions are needed for cabinetmaker)
  • wall tile and tub surround material (sometimes needs to be ordered and can take time)
  • plumbing fixtures (sinks, toilets, etc.)
  • recessed lighting fixtures

Materials/Decisions Needed When Framing Is Complete:

  • drywall finish texture or interior wall finish
  • lighting fixtures: Depending on your choices, these could take a while to arrive
  • paint colors
  • interior window finish (paint, varnish, stain)
  • shelving/closet materials
  • interior trim (for doors, windows, baseboard)

Materials/Decisions Needed When Drywall Is Complete:

  • cabinets/vanities/built-ins
  • countertop material
  • flooring
  • door hardware
  • built-in shower doors
  • mirrors, bathroom accessories (towel bars, etc.)
  • appliances