Do You Know These Home-Building Fundamentals?


By: Bambi Turner

7 Min Quiz

Image: SolStock/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Your home is hands down the most expensive thing you will ever buy, so why settle for anything less than your dream house? Sure, building a house takes time, but when it's complete, you'll have something perfectly suited for your family, with not a scrap of shag carpeting or an avocado green toilet in sight! Whether you plan on acting as your own home builder or hiring a contractor to manage the job, understanding the fundamentals of homebuilding can save you money, time and frustration as the project progresses.

So if you plan to hire a home builder or rely on a team of subcontractors to build your house, what does it matter if you understand the process? First, it will help you with planning and establishing a design for your new home. Second, it will help you communicate your wishes better to the architect, engineers and contractors you hire for the project. It will also give you the information you need to avoid major stumbling blocks, such as failing to follow building codes or schedule inspections when required. Finally, knowing how a house is built can help you establish reasonable expectations regarding cost, design, quality and schedule.

Think you know everything it takes to build a house from scratch? Test your home building IQ with this quiz!

Which of these fits between kitchen countertops and upper cabinets to protect the wall?

Without protection, the walls above your kitchen countertops would be subject to spills and splashes from water, food and even cooking grease. Backsplashes, which are made from stone or tile, cover a portion on the entirety of this area to protect it from damage and stains.


Which of these vertical pieces of lumber do you fasten drywall to when constructing walls inside the home?

Installing wooden 2x4's known as studs every 16 to 24 inches is the most common technique for constructing the walls inside of a home. Once the studs are up, the walls can be insulated, and drywall is added to create a smooth, finished surface.


Nobody wants a sewage problem, but do you know the minimum slope required for drain lines out of a home?

Drain line slopes are established by the National Plumbing Code. This line must slope at least 1/4 inch per foot to keep things moving and prevent clogs, but can't slope more than 3 inches per foot, because that would allow liquid to slide away while solid waste stayed behind.


There's nothing worse than stepping into the shower and finding you're out of hot water. Which piece of info should you look for when choosing a water heater for your home?

Want to avoid those surprise cold showers? Choose a water heater with a high first-hour rating when building your home. The higher this rating, the more hot water your unit will be able to provide in peak periods.


Ready to lay the porcelain throne? How much space are you required to leave between the center of the toilet and any nearby walls?

Sure it's your house, but you're still required to comply with local codes if you want to pass your final inspection. The National Plumbing Code in the U.S. requires you to leave at least 15 inches between the center of the toilet and any sidewalls or obstructions. You must also leave 24 inches clear in front of the fixture, so there's room to sit.


What should you install between the sheathing and the siding on your exterior walls?

Adding vinyl or aluminum siding right on top of wood sheathing is a great way to encourage moisture problems in your home. Before installing siding, take the time to cover the sheathing with building wrap, a synthetic paper-like material that keeps moisture at bay.


Balloon framing used to be the most common way to frame a home. Do you know which technique has taken its place?

Older homes use balloon framing, which consists of studs running continuously from the floor to the floor. Because of how quickly fires can spread in a balloon-framed home, modern builders rely on platform framing, which separates each floor of the house to an individual platform.


Smoke alarms save lives, but do you know the maximum distance you can mount these devices from the ceiling?

When mounting smoke alarms, always remember that smoke rises. The National Fire Protection code states that smoke alarms must be mounted within 12 inches of the ceiling when measured from the top of the device.


What's the biggest benefit to using flexible ductwork rather than rigid ductwork?

Flexible ductwork is simply wireframing wrapped in plastic. It's cheap and can be squeezed into tight spaces, but also comes with some drawbacks compared to rigid ducts. These drawbacks include reduced durability, loss of airflow and the inability to use some whole-house humidifiers.


Laminate countertops are cheap, making them popular among homeowners, but what's the biggest drawback to this material?

Laminate comes in a huge variety of finishes and can be installed quickly for between $10 and $40 per square foot, according to Consumer Reports. Despite its low price point, many buyers pass over laminate in favor of granite or stone because it is much less vulnerable to the cracks and chips that can mar the surface of laminate countertops.


What's the most height difference you can have between steps on your staircase without violating home building codes?

Building stairs can be tricky because it requires balancing a variety of measurements. The risers, those vertical portions between each step, can't be taller than 7-3/4 inches. Treads must be 10 inches deep or more, and you must leave 80 inches of headroom between each tread and the ceiling.


You stocked up on half a dozen bags of grout at the hardware store. Where should you plan to use it when building your home?

Grout is a flowing mixture of cement, sand, water and additives. It's used between tiles on the floor and walls to create a level, water-resistant and durable finish.


When you hear the term GFCI, which building material is being discussed?

Ground-fault circuit interrupters or GFCI receptacles are special electrical outlets that help reduce the risk of injury or shock. By code, they must be installed at outlets in the bathroom, garage, outbuildings and near the sink or countertops in the kitchen.


Choosing a heating system is a major decision you'll need to make when building a home. Which of these is the cheapest to operate on average?

Don't be swayed by upfront costs on different furnaces when building a home. Instead, think about how much the system will cost to operate over the years. For the winter of 2018 to 2019, the U.S. Energy Information Administration names a gas furnace as the cheapest of these four options, with a total winter heating cost of $644 as a U.S. average. Electric, propane and oil cost about twice that to run.


Plan to do some of the wiring yourself? Which of these should be used when connecting two or more wires?

Joining a pair of wires randomly within a wall cavity is a great way to set yourself up for problems. Play it safe by using a junction box to protect these connections. These simple metal or plastic devices protect the wires from damage and help to contain sparks or heat.


How much space should you leave between sheets of wood when sheathing the exterior of a home?

Installing plywood on OSB sheathing over wood studs is a relatively simple task, but don't forget that wood expands and contracts over time. Leave 1/8 inch between panels to prevent walls from bowing or cupping.


Assuming you don't live with any NBA stars, what's the minimum height for interior doors in the home?

Doors installed in the home must be large enough to pass through without having to stoop or turn sideways. The National Residential Code sets a minimum size of 32 inches wide by 80 inches tall.


Planning a basement bedroom? To meet code, how wide of a window must you install in the room?

All basement bedrooms require an egress window so that you can escape quickly if there is a fire. The window must have a total area of 5.7 square feet, with a minimum width of 20 inches and a minimum height of 24 inches.


Where should you plan to install anchor bolts, also known as j-bolts, when building a home?

Anchor bolts are used to secure the wooden framing of a home to the concrete foundation. They must be placed no more than 6 feet apart, and there must be at least one bolt placed between 4 and 12 inches from the end of each section. Since J-bolts are placed in wet concrete, this step requires cooperation between carpenters and masons.


If you're trying to build your home as frugally as possible, what's the cheapest siding to use on your home's exterior?

There are a lot of reasons vinyl siding is the most popular exterior finish used in the U.S. Not only is it cheap and easy to install, but it's also resistant to rot, pests, dents and rust.


Which structure in the home always requires the use of fire-rated drywall?

While fire-codes can vary by city, all garages with a bedroom or living area located upstairs require the use of fire-rated drywall on the ceiling. It's also a good idea to use fire-rated gypsum around furnace or utility rooms.


What's the biggest drawback to using a slab-on-grade foundation compared to a basement?

In areas where the ground doesn't freeze, a slab-on-grade foundation is cheap and quick to construct. It's low to the ground, so it requires fewer steps up to reach the house than a home with a basement. One major drawback to a slab is that it limits future expansion. With no basement space to finish out, any future expansion needs will require you to build up or out, which can be tricky.


What kind of outlets keep kids from getting hurt when they stick something in one of the holes?

Since the 2008 National Electric Code was written, tamper-resistant outlets have been required in all new and renovated homes. These outlets only work if you use equal pressure to insert a plug, and won't let a child stick a knife or fork inside.


How deep do you have to place your footings below the ground to ensure your home has a stable base?

The frost line marks how deep the ground in your area freezes each winter. When digging footings, always dig down at least one foot below the frost line. This means footers could be 6 feet deep in some regions and just 1 or 2 feet deep in other parts of the country.


Nobody wants to deal with a smelly bathroom, but do you know where to exhaust that ventilation fan?

One very common home building error involves exhausting the bathroom vent fan into the attic. This practice dumps stinky, moist air into your attic, which is never a good idea. Instead, take the time to exhaust the fan to the outdoors to prevent future damage.


When do most jurisdictions require the first inspection to take place when building a home?

Missing a required inspection can result in having to pay fines, or even worse, tear down what you have built. Many jurisdictions require you to call for an inspection once foundations are complete, then again after framing, mechanical and plumbing rough-ins, and a final inspection when the home is complete.


Which of these pipe materials can never be used for hot water?

No plumbing code in the U.S. allows you to use PVC piping for hot water, or even to use it inside the home. It can only be used for cold water or drain lines, and is only permitted as service piping, and not for indoor distribution.


Which of these is NOT an advantage to using metal studs rather than standard wooden ones to build your home?

While metal studs have long been used to frame commercial structures, wooden studs remain the standard for homes. Though metal studs offer superior fire-resistance and durability compared to wood studs, they also cost more and only make sense in specific residential applications.


No one likes to waste time digging, but proper ground prep ensures your new home will last for years. What is the minimum ground slope you must maintain around the house?

Sloping the ground away from your home will prevent rain and other moisture from damaging your foundation over time. Most building codes require a minimum slope of 5 percent or 6 inches over 10 feet.


Ever noticed how you can never find an outlet when you need one? To meet code, what's the farthest spacing you can have between outlets on a continuous wall?

The National Electrical Code requires outlets to be placed at least every 12 feet along the walls within a room, and any wall wider than 2 feet needs to have one. You must also install an outlet on any hallway that's 10 feet long on more.


Which room in the average home uses the most electricity?

Kitchens are power hogs, consuming more electricity than any other room. That means you should plan for plenty of power going to this room when building your home. Not only do you need standard receptacles and power for lighting, but appliances like the oven, garbage disposal, microwave, and refrigerator all require their own dedicated circuits.


Which of these should you include in your new home design if your goal is to take advantage of passive solar heat?

Passive solar homes use materials that absorb energy from the sun and slowly release it over the hours. If you want to take advantage of this free heat energy, plan to include materials like brick, stone, concrete and tile in your design.


How many inches of insulation does the average home require in the attic?

A typical home in the U.S. should have between 10 and 14 inches of attic insulation, which translates to an R-value of R-38, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. As a rule of thumb, if you can see the joists in the floor of your attic, you're missing some insulation and should add more to cut energy costs.


On a budget? Which of these roof finishes tends to be the cheapest?

Building a home means shelling out big bucks, but frugal choices like asphalt roof shingles can help you keep your budget in check. These shingles are long-lasting, durable and cost much less than fancier roof finishes like metal or slate.


The size of your home affects everything from the comfort of your family to your heating costs and taxes. Do you know how large the average U.S. house as in 2018?

Even as families have shrunk over the years, the average American home has grown. In 1973, the average family lived in 1,660 square feet. By 2018, the typical U.S. home had grown to 2,392 square feet. When sizing your home, take the time to balance space needs with maintenance costs over time.


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