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A 2020 study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) examined who decides what building materials to use in new home construction. Not surprisingly, builders and contractors exert the greatest influence over primary construction materials, such as windows and doors, siding and house wrap, lumber and plywood.
But this applies more to home builders in planned developments. If you’re lucky enough to be custom-building a new home or vacation getaway, or remodeling an existing one, you’ll probably have a much larger role in deciding what materials go into the build. And if you’re taking on a DIY building or renovation project, then it’s all on you to make sure the materials meet the demands of your location, climate and budget.
Here are seven questions to ask when choosing building materials:
Unless you have a limitless building budget, choose materials priced within your means without compromising too much on quality. Natural stone siding is the most expensive residential exterior building material, but it’s also one of the most durable. When properly installed, stone siding can last more than 100 years. Make sure the materials you choose strike the right balance between price and longevity.
You may love the look of a certain material, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for your climate or region. Wood siding looks authentic and natural, but if you put it on a house in South Florida, the long rainy seasons can do lots of damage. So can termites, who also like the warm climates of the Southeast. Before you commit to a material, make sure it’s hardy enough for the climate challenges of your specific region.
You loved those hand-painted tiles you saw on your trip to Portugal, and you absolutely want them in your new kitchen. But how long are you willing to wait for them?
The more unique or rare the material, the harder it may be to find, and the longer it may take to be delivered. You probably have a timeline in mind for your project, so make sure to choose materials that fit the timeline. If those hand-painted tiles direct from Lisbon take three months to arrive, it may not be worth it.
You want to build green, and a modular home on your wooded lot seems like the right solution. But will you need to cut down trees to position that home where you want it? Consider whether your materials can be delivered with relative ease. Keep in mind things like driveway width, overhead utility lines and — if you’re building in a remote area — the size, condition and grade of access roads.
If building with sustainable materials is a priority, make sure you choose the right materials for your climate and setting. Solar panels, for example, might not power you through a long Midwestern winter.
Also keep transport costs in mind. If those sustainable materials must be hauled halfway across the country to your job site, the carbon emissions of transport might negate any eco-benefits.
A traditional log cabin looks great in the woods of Vermont. On a beach in Florida, not so much.
When choosing materials, especially wood, stone, stucco or other kinds of exterior siding, consider regional aesthetics. If you’re building in a developed area, especially in deed-restricted communities, pay attention to local building codes, zoning ordinances and Homeowners Association (HOA) rules. These may dictate everything from what materials you can use to what color your house can be.
Concrete, steel, wood and vinyl are among the most common exterior materials because they are readily available and long-lasting. If you’re deciding between these or building materials that are more sustainable, more aesthetically pleasing or new to the market, do your homework and think long-term.
Talk with homeowners or designers who’ve worked with the materials you’re considering. Think about how long you plan to own the home you’re building or renovating, and how much maintenance you’re willing to do over the next five, 10 or 20 years. Let that guide your decisions, especially if you’re building a vacation getaway. You don’t want to spend all your time there on upkeep!