10 changes to your home

10 Things You'll Want to Change in Your New Home

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The primary factors driving homebuilders is speed and cost savings. Unfortunately, you may not realize where things have been shortchanged in the name of speed and what dangers you and your family are exposed to.


As a new homeowner, it quickly becomes apparent that several of your home developers or contractors' building choices are not, as one might say, “quite up to snuff.” In fact, they can easily prove to be costly down the road, inconvenient, and even outright dangerous.

Now, I'm not a contractor, and on a handyman's scale of one to ten, I'm probably a 3 (I own the tools, but most are still clean), and as the legal two-step goes, I am not responsible for any suggestions I make in this article that doesn't quite work out for you. Additionally, you should only consider this as “entertainment” (wink wink).

Here are some common deficiencies I've found over the years that I wish someone had told me about earlier.

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Sprinkler Controller

Our builder installed a sprinkler system in our home, which is probably typical; the Hunter system. Now, nothing wrong with Hunter but the system they installed is, well, let's just say, dumb. That is, the controller is essentially manual, and its only outside input, other than you, is the rain sensor attached to the side of the roof.

So if this “sensor” collects rainwater, the controller turns the sprinklers off. That sounds great. So if it collects rain in the morning, and the sprinkler is to go off in the afternoon – grand. However, if the sprinkler goes off in the morning and the sensor collects rain in the afternoon – not so great. You still water the lawn since it never recognizes that the rain is coming.

An intelligent sensor, which is connected to the Internet, knows that it's going to rain and turns off the sprinkler even in advance of the rain. Again, mission accomplished. An intelligent sensor connected to the Internet doesn't rely on physically collecting rainwater. It also knows if it's too hot, windy, or cold. All are conditions that dictate how the controller should respond.

An intelligent system also knows what type of soil you have, the slope, and what's planted in each zone; plants, trees, or grass.  It knows if the zone is in shade, partial share, or full sun. It knows because you program it to know. The Hunter knows you have 8 or 12 zones – nothing more.

Now you can add a Wi-Fi connection to your Hunter system for around $120. If you do so, you will have a dumb controller connected to Wi-Fi. For around $146, you can buy a separate controller, which is already Wi-Fi enabled and is an intelligent controller. You change nothing else; wires, pipes, and sprinkler heads all remain the same. The new system I used and changed myself is the Ranchio 8 station for around $146 at Amazon. You can go with the 12 stations if you have a larger lawn. Either way, you program the specifics; soil, slope, plant, grass or tree, etc., and the system sets everything else up automatically. It beats the dumb controllers and saves you money on your water bill. Best of all, it waters correctly, so your grass is green and your plants are alive. Mission accomplished.

North Wall Water Faucet

Some builders construct their systems to withstand freezing weather. Others, like many in Texas, assume that the infrequent freezing temperature is a grand excuse not to do anything special. Thus, for example, outdoor faucets on the North walls, which experience the bulk of the freezing temperatures, may be fitted with a simple wrap of electrical tape, which is fast and cheap. So what if it freezes every once in a while – and the water bursts? Here's an example of my home's north-wall outdoor faucet.

A word to the wise, make sure your outdoor faucets, especially on the north side of your home, are insulated correctly. The cost of doing so should be reasonable or can even be completed yourself, and avoiding the inconvenience of a burst pipe has a certain value all its own.

Mounting Garden Tools on Dry Walls

Manufacturers have created an almost infinite number of mounting systems for attaching your garden tools to the dry walls in your garage. Some work better than others but usually, all fail at one time or another.  A simpler and more secure approach is to attach a strip of wood, such as a 1 by 4, fastened to your studs. Then, attach tool racks such as these anywhere you want on the wooden strip without regard to where the studs are. Much more secure and convenient as you can position them anywhere you wish on the wooden strips.

Door Knobs

When the cheap door knob on our back door broke, my attempts to replace it at the local box store were hampered by my inability to find a door knob as cheaply made as the one I wanted to replace. They didn't sell a knob of such low quality, which begs the question, how secure are the door knobs, especially the outside knobs, throughout your home.

A few things you need to know: 1) even quality door locks are relatively inexpensive, like this front door lock and deadbolt, 2) lever handles are much easier to operate than knobs, and 3) current door locks are keyed so that the first time you operate the included keys, you set the lock and never need a locksmith to complete your installation.

Door Lock Plates and Hinges

The primary factors driving homebuilders are speed and cost savings. Subcontractors know that they are out of a job if they can't knock out a home quickly and cheaply. Accordingly, everything is set to be completed as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Unfortunately, you may not realize where things have been shortchanged in the name of speed and what dangers you and your family are exposed to.

One common problem is the screws attaching the hinges to your door and door frame. Instead of attaching with adequate-length screws, they will often use 1/2-inch screws. I've literally had an inside garage door almost fall off because the tiny screw holding the hinges to the door frame worked loose.

Check it out for yourself and replace these tiny unsafe screws with grade 5 spax 3-inch flathead self-tapping screws. You may not need to replace every screw, but you'll have a much more secure door.  With all the home invasions, you might be glad you did this.

Cabinet Knobs

It's not unusual for builders to not even include cabinet knobs anymore. Again, they are readily and economically available at even Amazon, like these brass knobs and these handles, which are available in several colors. Outside of a drill, the only other tool you'll need is a template like this from Amazon.

LED Lights

LED lights are 40% to 90% less to operate than fluorescent lighting, also known as CFL. However, CFL light bulbs generally cost about 60% of what a LED bulb costs. So, guess which one many home builders put in your home? Too often, it's the CFL. Should you change them? LED lights will give you better quality lighting and offer a much longer lifespan. Most experts recommend changing to LED even though you will have an upfront cost. Replace everything simultaneously versus sporadic outages may itself be worth the additional cost.

Toilet Seats

Quiet or soft-close toilet seats are generally twice the cost of regular toilet seats. So again, guess which toilet seats your home builder generally installs? It doesn't sound like a big deal, but a soft close just makes things much better and avoids toilet seat slams – like in the middle of the night. Well worth the cost and easy to change.

Shower Heads

You would think the home builder worked for the water department or joined the green movement since most installed water-saving shower heads. The problem is taking a shower with most water-saving heads is much like taking a shower with a mister – it's frustrating. If saving water is critical to you, take shorter showers. The Speakman shower heads are commonly used in gyms and spas, and their handheld head not only adds flexibility but will help your cleaning providers clean your showers and bathtubs.

Soft Close drawers

Another cost-saving feature for the builder is to install regular drawer rails versus the more convenient soft close rails. You can always tell if the cheaper rails have been installed when you walk into a kitchen and half of the drawers are left open. Again, this is an easy change and well worth the cost and effort.

Summary

It would be nice just to get the home builder to change these things and pay for the cost increase. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out that way as they are programmed to install one product and one product only, and any deviation slows down the process.  Fortunately, most of these items are not too expensive and offer benefits well above their cost and effort.


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