Looking at your home, you wouldn't think there's much to it. The cohesive whole called a "house" has many different parts, each with a specific purpose. It means a lot of complex engineering goes into even the simplest dwellings. Each action must consider all the elements to maintain a solid, durable, and attractive structure.
It takes a variety of experts to design and construct a safe and functional home. As a homeowner, it pays to understand the components that make up a house. They include:
Your home requires a solid foundation to support the entire weight of the structure. It consists of poured concrete, cinder block, or brick. The design has to withstand the house's lateral and vertical loads and the site's soil conditions.
The foundation transfers the weight of the house to the ground and keeps it from shifting or settling. When setting the foundation, there's a lot to consider. These include:
A vast, multi-story home will have a different foundation than a small ranch house. The weight of the materials used in construction and the number of stories play a role in the design.
Soils have different load-bearing capacities. The more clay in the ground, the heavier the loads it can support. You'll have to dig deeper and use more concrete in sandy soil. The foundation must also resist water and moisture. In wet conditions, the foundation could heave or crack. The foundation is usually built with a barrier to prevent moisture from reaching the house.
The foundation has to resist frost heave in cold weather climates. It occurs when the ground freezes and expands, pushing against the foundation. The foundation must be deep enough to prevent freezing. Footings are placed below the frost line to distribute the weight and avoid heaving.
Every municipality has building codes that constructions must follow. The regulations cover everything from the depth of the foundation to the materials used. The building inspector ensures that the foundation meets all the code requirements. Work with a contractor who understands your local codes.
The superstructure is everything above the foundation. The frame supports the roof, walls, and floors. The frame's materials affect the house's strength, durability, and cost. The most common framing material is wood because it's easy to work with and relatively inexpensive.
However, steel and concrete are also used in some homes. The design of the frame must consider the loads placed on it, such as the weight of the roof, people, and furniture.
Other considerations are weather conditions, wind, and earthquakes. In storm-prone areas, the frame must be able to resist high winds. In earthquake countries, it must be flexible to absorb the shaking.
The walls support the roof and ceiling. They also provide security, privacy, and weather protection. The most common type of wall is load-bearing. It carries the weight of the house above it to the foundation. A non-load-bearing wall doesn't support any weight, and it’s located anywhere in the house.
The most common wall materials are wood, brick, and concrete. Wood is easy to work with and relatively inexpensive. Brick is more expensive but provides good insulation. Concrete is the most robust but expensive option. The wall must support loads and resist wind, earthquakes, and other forces. Critical considerations when choosing wall materials are:
If you live in a hot climate, you'll need a material that provides good insulation. It prevents heat from entering the house and keeps it cool. You need a material that doesn't lose heat quickly in a cold climate, keeping the house warmer. Excellent insulation materials are concrete, brick, and wood.
You don't want your walls to transmit sound easily. This is especially important if you live in a high-density area or near a busy street. Materials that block sound well are wood, brick, and concrete.
Some materials are more fire-resistant than others, an essential consideration if you live in an area prone to wildfires. The most fire-resistant materials are concrete, brick, and steel.
The wall must resist moisture, vital in wet climates or if the house is near water. Materials that resist moisture well are brick, concrete, and steel. Note that the wall deteriorates, leading to leaks and other problems when wet.
The cost of the material is an important consideration. The most expensive materials are concrete, brick, and steel, while wood is affordable.
The roof protects the house from the elements. It must be strong enough to resist high winds, snow, and hail. It must also shed water quickly to prevent leaks. The most common roofing materials are asphalt shingles, wood, metal, and tile.
The most important consideration when choosing a roofing material is the climate. Asphalt shingles are not suitable for areas with high winds or hail. Wood is not ideal for areas with high fire danger.
Metal is a good choice for all climates but is the most expensive option. Tile is a good choice for all environments but is the heaviest and most challenging to install. Key things to note are:
A well-insulated roof prevents heat loss or gain as the seasons change. The effort prevents moisture condensation that leads to leaks. Ice dams, caused by melting snow, can also cause leaks. Adequate insulation prevents ice dams from forming.
Ventilate the roof to allow adequate air circulation. It prevents moisture buildup and keeps the attic cooler in summer. It also prevents heat loss in winter.
Flash the roof to prevent water from seeping around chimneys, skylights, and other openings. You'll also need flashing around valleys and at the intersections.
The chimney is a vertical structure that allows smoke and hot gases to escape the house. It must be tall enough to ensure that the smoke and gases rise above the roofline.
The structure must also be strong enough to resist the weight of the roof and the forces of wind and earthquakes. The most common chimney materials are brick, concrete, and metal.
The floor must be strong enough to support the weight of the house and everything in it. Not forgetting, it must also resist moisture and pests. The most common flooring materials are wood, concrete, tile, and carpet. When choosing a flooring material, consider the following:
The floor must resist moisture, which is more critical in wet climates or if the house is near water. Materials that resist moisture well are concrete, tile, and vinyl. Carpet is not a good choice for wet areas because it harbors mold and mildew. If concerned about slippery surfaces, choose a material with a rougher texture.
Pest resistance is vital if you live in an area with many insects or rodents. Materials that resist pests are concrete, tile, and vinyl. Wood is not a good choice because they damage it by chewing and burrowing.
Floor heat retention is vital in cold climates. Materials that retain heat well are concrete, tile, and carpet. Wood is not a good choice for cold areas because it conducts heat poorly.
The cost of the material affects the project's overall budget. The most expensive materials are concrete, brick, and steel. However, don't compromise on quality to save money.
Some flooring materials require more maintenance than others. For example, concrete requires sealing periodically to prevent moisture damage. Tiles need grout to prevent water from seeping behind them.
Carpets need vacuuming and shampooing to prevent dirt and dust buildup. Refinishing wood floors every few years keeps them looking their best. Consider the maintenance required when choosing a flooring material. Also, understand the pros and cons of each type before making a final decision.
Your home's plumbing determines where you'll put the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. It also affects how much water your family will use. Plumbing fixtures include faucets, toilets, and showers. When choosing, consider the following:
Toilets, showerheads, and faucets come in different water efficiency ratings. The higher the rating, the less water they use. To save water, choose fixtures with the highest water efficiency rating.
Choose a style that fits the overall design of your home. Durable fixtures might cost more but serve you for a more extended period. Brass, bronze, and stainless steel are more durable than plastic.
Homes in cold climates need plumbing that resists freezing. PEX tubing is flexible and expands when frozen, making it a good choice for homes in cold temperatures. However, insulating the pipes protects them from freezing.
Your home's electric system powers the lights, appliances, and outlets. It also affects how much energy your family uses. The most common electrical materials are copper and aluminum wire. Electrical fixtures include light switches, outlets, and circuit breakers. When choosing electrical fixtures, consider the following:
Your home's electric system must handle the voltage and current required by your appliances and lights. Most homes use 110-volt and 220 power. Some devices, such as stoves and clothes dryers, require 220-volt power. The central panel should have a label that indicates the maximum voltage and current it can handle.
Some fixtures are designed for indoor use only, while others can be used in any setting. For example, GFCI outlets are required for outdoor use. They're also a good idea in wet areas, such as near a sink or in a bathroom. Outdoor electrical fixtures have special features to protect them from the weather.
Some electrical fixtures are more energy-efficient than others. LED light bulbs use less energy than incandescent light bulbs. When choosing electrical fixtures, look for the Energy Star label. It indicates that the appliance meets strict energy-efficiency guidelines.
Correct electrical fixture installation ensures safety. Incorrectly installed ones can cause fires. Hire a qualified electrician to install all the electrical fixtures.
A home's HVAC system heats and cools the air inside. It also affects how comfortable your family is and the air quality. HVAC fixtures include air conditioners, furnaces, and heat pumps. When choosing HVAC fixtures, consider the following:
Heating and cooling fixtures come in different sizes and capacities. Consider the room's square footage and the climate. A larger room needs a more oversized air conditioner, while colder weather requires a furnace with a higher capacity.
Heating and cooling fixtures come in different energy efficiency ratings. The higher the rating, the less energy they use. To save money, choose fixtures with the highest energy efficiency rating. Check also the maintenance requirements. A more energy-efficient furnace might require more frequent maintenance.
Windows and doors affect a home's heating and cooling system and appearance. They let in sunlight and air. Large windows with a lot of glass require more energy to heat and cool. Consider the following when choosing windows and doors:
The most common window and door materials are wood, steel, and aluminum. Wood is the most energy-efficient material, while steel is solid and durable. Aluminum is lightweight and doesn't rust.
The type of glass used in windows and doors affects energy efficiency. Low-E glass has a coating that reflects heat; a good choice for homes in hot climates. Double-paned windows have two layers of glass separated by air which acts as insulation. It's a good choice for homes in cold temperatures.
Weatherstripping seals gaps around windows and doors. It keeps heat in during the winter and out in summer. It keeps your home more comfortable year-round.
Gutters and downspouts are installed on the roof, collecting rainwater and channeling it away from the house. The effort prevents water damage to the roof and foundation. Gutters and downspouts are available in different materials, including aluminum, vinyl, and steel. Choose a material that will match your home's style.
Siding protects your home from the elements and affects its appearance. The most common siding materials are wood, vinyl, and fiber cement. Wood is the most energy-efficient material, while vinyl is durable and easy to maintain. Fiber cement is fire-resistant and termite-proof.
Your home is made up of many different elements, each with a specific purpose. The right choice affects your home's appearance, energy efficiency, and safety. Consider all your options carefully before making a decision.
Even when the choices are overwhelming, remember that you are the one who will live in your home. Choose what makes you happy and comfortable. Hire a qualified professional to help you with the installation.