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Many men and women who like to work with their hands consider careers in the building trades, but home construction is so much more than knowing how to swing a hammer or safely operate a saw. It requires an understanding of basic techniques and materials, from insulation and siding to concrete and roofing, as well as interior finishes like paint and flooring. It means knowing how to use heating and cooling systems to keep the house comfortable, manage plumbing needs and install a safe and effective electrical system. Beyond that, a successful builder must understand the steps to home construction, and why performing them out of order or skipping a step could spell disaster down the road.
Finally, builders must also have a close understanding of the laws that apply to building homes. This means understanding the codes, knowing when you need an inspection to proceed and how to protect future occupants of the home from things like fire, gas or radon.
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Foundations form the sturdy base of the home, and all other components are supported by this concrete structure. A wooden bottom plate, also known as a sill plate or sole plate, rests horizontally on top of the foundation. Wall framing studs are then fastened to this plate.
The footings that support a home should always extend at least 12 inches below the frost line in an area -- that's a marker of how deep the ground freezes each winter. That means footers can be placed just 1 to 2 feet deep in warm areas, but must be buried 6 feet below the surface or more in very cold regions.
Frugal home buyers will always be interested in what type of heating costs they can expect each season. Builders wanting to tout low operating costs should install a gas-fired furnace, which comes with annual average winter heating costs of $564, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Radon gas occurs naturally as uranium in rocks within the Earth breaks down over time. Unfortunately, home builders have to be aware of this phenomenon because this radon gas is linked to lung cancer in the long term.
Installing a functional and complete mechanical and plumbing system in a home is no easy task. The process begins with roughing-in -- where mechanical and plumbing contractors lay pipes and ductwork that will be connected to fixtures like toilets, sinks, furnaces and vents later during the building process.
The foundation is the base of a home, and creating a stable foundation is the first step in the home construction process. Most U.S. homes use either a slab on grade, a crawl space or a basement foundation system.
Pre-hung doors are fairly standard in the residential construction industry. They consist of a door that is already mounted within a frame, with all required hardware in place. That saves time for builders, who only have to prep a rough opening and slide the whole assembly into the opening.
Insulated concrete forms, or ICFs, are modern alternatives to traditional wooden concrete frames. They consist of a frame made from insulation, which is left in place after the concrete has been poured. ICFs can be used for making anything from footings to walls.
Conduits are metal or plastic tubes installed in the walls and ceilings of the home. By running electrical wires within the conduits, builders can protect installers and homeowners from the risk of injury while keeping the wires safely protected.
Fascia is the area located directly above the soffit. It sits perpendicular to the ground, and is located on the front of the roof section that overhangs the home's footprint. Gutters are traditionally installed on the fascia.
Using proper levels of insulation can really make a difference in not only how comfortable a home is to live in, but also how much it costs to heat and cool. The effectiveness of insulation is measured using R-value, and higher R-values are linked to greater thermal resistance.
After vinyl siding, stucco is the most common material used to finish the exterior of U.S. homes. Made from a mixture of Portland cement, lime, water and additives, stucco is applied in layers to create a textured finish that is both durable and attractive.
Roofing materials are sold by the square, where one square is equal to 100 square feet of roof coverage. Generally, one roll of roofing is enough to cover one square. If you're buying bundles rather than rolls, plan on three bundles of shingles per square.
The take off is part of the estimating and planning process for a home. Contractors performing take off review the plans and determine quantities of each material that will be needed to complete the job.
Load-bearing walls are any walls in a house that support a load other than their own weight. They sit perpendicular to the joists and typically have double top plates. Doors or openings in a load-bearing wall have a solid header rather than just a standard framed one.
Ever seen a child draw a picture of a house by stacking a triangle on top of a square? That triangle design is called a gable roof, and it's one of the most common profiles for residential roofs. The two sloped sides meet at a peak known as a ridge.
Glazing is a job performed by specialty subcontractors. It involves installing all the glass in a home, whether in doors, windows or openings such as transoms.
Shakes are wooden shingles made from split logs. They are a very traditional exterior finish option, and can be used on exterior walls or roofs to give a rustic, back-to-nature style to a home.
Hydronic systems use circulating water to heat the home. Instead of a traditional furnace, they rely on either a boiler or a solar water heater to warm the water, which then passes through pipes to give up heat via a radiator or an in-floor heating system.
The National Residential Code specifies that builders use fire-rated drywall around the garage, utility rooms and the furnace room. This drywall is thicker than average, and contains special materials that help slow the spread of fire. Fire-rated drywall is not typically required around bedrooms.
J-bolts, or anchor bolts, are used to secure the framing of a house to the foundation. They are installed while the concrete is still wet, with the curved portion facing down and the threaded portion facing up. The J shape allows builders to secure the bolt to reinforcing steel within the concrete if necessary.
Green board, so named for its green paper backing, is a special type of drywall designed to hold up in moisture-prone areas. It is often used in bathrooms. Blue board, which has blue paper backing, is designed for use with veneer plaster applications.
The pitch of a roof tells you the slope, or how many inches the roof rises for every foot it extends. A 6 in 12 pitch means that the roof rises 6 inches for every 12 inches of horizontal area.
Rebar refers to any reinforcing steel used to strengthen concrete. It may consist of steel rods or wire mesh. Rebar improves the tensile strength of the concrete, which helps it hold up against pulling forces.
Certain materials installed in a home when it is complete or nearing completion must be fabricated based on exact field measurements. This includes kitchen cabinets, countertops, shower doors and other fixtures that must fit precise specifications.
Building a house? Don't forget to add blocking within the wall framing before you install drywall. This wood blocking gives you something to attach things like shelves, paintings, cabinets or televisions to.
Most floor finishes are nailed, glued, screwed or stapled to the subfloor. Laminate is different because it typically requires a floating technique, which means it locks together, but is not fastened to the subfloor. Instead, it floats over top with no nails or glue holding it in place.
Mortar is used to bond layers of brick or block. Over time, the mortar can deteriorate, leaving masonry subject to structural damage. Pointing up or repointing is the process of removing old mortar and replacing it with newly mixed mortar to maintain the structural integrity and appearance of the home.
Grading is the very first step in building a home. It involves digging or adding soil to bring the ground to the desired slope and elevation. This may require simple hand tools like shovels, or large equipment like a backhoe or bulldozer.
Most residential building codes require a 5 percent slope for the property around a home. This means a decline in elevation of 6 inches over 10 feet. This slope allows for proper drainage and prevents moisture problems around the foundation.
The line where the two sloped surfaces of a residential roof meet is known as the ridge. A ridge vent is placed along this line to allow hot, stale air from the attic to escape to the outdoors. A ridge vent cover ensures air can get out without letting water in.
Stair treads -- that's the part you step on -- must be at least 10 inches deep in the U.S.. The risers -- the vertical portion that connects each treat -- can't be any taller than 7-3/4 inches.
Concrete is sold by the cubic yard. That means you have to measure your construction drawings in square feet, then divide by 27, which is the number of cubic feet in a cubic yard.
Stucco ranks among the most common exterior finish materials for homes in the U.S. When using stucco, installers first apply a scratch coat, which is roughly textured to help the finish coat of stucco bond to the structure.
Ducts or ductwork are part of the HVAC -- heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the home. They distribute air throughout the home and pull stale air out of rooms to exhaust it outdoors.