How to Interview a Custom Home Builder

When you’re ready to build a custom home, it’s important to interview several builders before making a commitment. Every builder has different strengths and styles, and you want to be confident that your builder has the same vision for your home’s design. In this guide, we’ll provide several questions you should ask to ensure that the builders you choose are the right ones for you.

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7 Dismissed Details in Custom Home Design

If you’ve decided to custom build your home, you’ve probably spent lots of time on Pinterest or Houzz looking at cabinet choices and color schemes. However, some important details in custom home design can often be dismissed by homeowners—leaving them with regrets when their homes are complete.

Before you decide to build your home, take the time to thoughtfully discuss these seven details with the builders you are interviewing so your finished home is both functional and beautiful.

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6 Questions to Ask Your Builder Before Building Your Custom Home

When it comes to building, no two builders are the same, which is why you should be prepared with questions to ask your builder as you begin the process of designing and building your dream home.

A custom home is your opportunity to create a place that is truly yours, uniquely designed to suit your lifestyle, personality, and family in a way no pre-built home ever could. This is why it’s vitally important that homebuyers pick a builder they are comfortable and confident in.

The home-building experience is both exciting and stressful to undertake. Homebuyers often feel that stress keenly with builders who are not on the same wavelength during the design/build process. But when you find the right builder, that stress is minimized significantly so that only the excitement shines through as you see it all come together.

How do you know when you’ve found the right builders for your custom home? By taking the time to “interview” the builder by asking questions. No doubt, the answers will blossom into full-fledged discussions that will reveal if you have found the right builders and grow your confidence that you’ve found the custom builder who’s the right fit for you.

Here are six questions to ask your builder so you can find the perfect match for building your custom home.


1) What is the cost of building a home in my area?

Home construction costs are defined by four factors:

  • Location of lot and site condition: Prices of lots vary from township to township around the greater Pittsburgh area. Additionally, the condition of the lot will affect construction cost such as if the site is located near a wetland or is rocky and additional excavation is needed.
  • Home design: The style of home you wish to build, and the square footage are two factors that will dictate the cost of your home.
  • Materials and selections: We’ve all seen the news that lumber prices have risen significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but all of the materials you wish to have in your newly built home—from flooring and tile to kitchen cabinets and master bathroom features—will all factor into the cost of your home.
  • Project schedule: Tighter timeframes or delays from changing the design (once finalized) will affect the cost of construction.

Keep in mind, however, that building a custom home is priced differently than building a neighborhood home or a spec home.  

2) What is your experience level as a builder?

Ask your builder team how long they have been in the business. Many builders have been constructing homes for decades, while others are relatively new on the scene. What truly matters beyond the years of experience in the construction and design expertise available and how satisfied customers were with previous projects.

Ask to see a gallery of homes that your builders have built in the past to get a feel for their style and quality level. You can also ask for referrals so you may interview past custom home buyers on their experience. 

3) Can you also design my home?

Many custom home builders offer a unique design-build experience, which means they can custom design your home from the ground up.

There are many advantages to designing and building with the same custom home team. The first is that your vision will be realized from beginning to end. The next is that the entire process, from blueprints to construction, will be streamlined internally without the need to hire additional services and experts to aid in the design and plan approval process. And lastly, the builder will be able to help you design a home and select the materials that fit into your budget. There’s nothing worse than having plans for a home that you love only to find out that it’s not within your budget

4) What is your construction timeline? How long will the building process take?

From design to completion, the custom home process can take anywhere between 6 months and 12 months. On average, you can expect a medium-sized custom home construction to take about a year to complete from foundation to finish. Larger homes may take longer to complete.

Another variable in the construction timeline is how long it takes for materials to be shipped. Specialty tiles, custom cabinets, appliances, windows, and even your bathtub can take as little as a few weeks to as long as 4-5 months to arrive on site.

Always ask for an outlined construction timeline. Look for a builder who can give you a concrete answer and break down how the timeline works section-by-section. 


5) Is the lot cost included?

Whether your lot cost is included depends on your builders and home construction circumstance. In many cases, custom homebuyers first buy the lot, then hire their contractors to build the house. However, if your builders are also neighborhood property developers, they may offer the lot price along with the home price as a package deal – because they already own the lot. 

6) How do you determine the budget for the project?

This is one of the most important questions you can ask and feel comfortable with your builder’s approach. Your budget will be determined by a wide variety of factors – factors that your custom builder can break down for you to see. This process will help you understand what may cause any off-plan expenses.

It’s no secret that your home is one of the most important investments you’ll make in your lifetime. It’s a place where you can retreat, relax and recover from the stress of work and day-to-day life.

So why not build the perfect space?

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An Aging-in-Place Addition in Mt. Lebanon

A Main Level Home Addition Prepares a Couple for Future Aging-in-Place Needs

This older couple had aging in place in mind when they sought out Prime 1 Builders to renovate their home. While they were not experiencing any mobility issues now, they wanted to modify their home to create more of a one-floor living space. They were concerned about climbing the stairs to their second-floor bedrooms and bathrooms in the future.


Aging In Place Design

The goal of the addition design was to create a space that can be enjoyed now while providing enough flexibility for future aging-in-place needs, should the clients need them. To accomplish this, we designed a space that is not only open (for ease in mobility), but also provides all of the features they will need should they need to be confined to one-floor living: bedroom, bathroom, easy-to-navigate kitchen and laundry room.

  • For now, the space designated as a future bedroom will be enjoyed as a TV room.
  • The laundry room was moved up from the basement to the main floor.
  • A lovely, modern bathroom is located off the kitchen, complete with a low-threshold shower. Attractive grab bars were installed in the shower, and additional blocking was installed behind the walls for more grab bars to be installed when needed in the future.
  • French style patio door opening lead out to a spacious and lovely, covered deck.
  • The area under the covered deck serves as a carport.
  • The addition created an additional two-car garage. The homeowner currently uses it as his woodworking shop.

Addition Construction & Challenges

One of the first challenges while constructing this room addition was to remove an old covered concrete porch perched over a concrete block storage room, but we were able to remove this structure without damaging the existing house.

Another challenge came from the close lot lines of this neighborhood which required us to excavate close to the neighbor’s newly constructed concrete driveway—installed right at the property line. We excavated and installed the new reinforced concrete block foundation without disturbing the earth around the driveway.

With an existing walkway at the front of the house leading to a gently sloped driveway, the addition and the garage can be easily accessed without climbing any stairs. The exterior siding and trim colors were selected to blend in with the existing home exterior.

Whether you want to build your dream home or renovate and expand your home to meet your needs today, we can help. Contact us.

Award-Winning Kitchen Addition & Garage Build in Point Breeze

A Kitchen Addition & Garage Built for this Urban East-Side Pittsburgh Home

When this client came to Prime 1 Builders, they wanted two items: to build a detached garage and to expand the kitchen of their brick home in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood. Their vision was to have their larger kitchen overlook their backyard, which is often utilized for dining and entertaining, as well as finally have a two-car garage to protect and charge their cars and store belongings.


Constructing a Kitchen Addition

This brick home was built in 1929, so care needed to be taken to join the addition to the existing home. The kitchen addition was affixed to the house where a modest back porch existed. The wall between the existing dining room and the new kitchen wasn’t entirely removed, but the opening was expanded, to allow access around the island and create a nice flow to a new backdoor. A flat roof, rather than pitched, was used on the addition. This thoughtful design feature limits any obstructions from the second-floor bedrooms, while still allowing for high ceilings and tall windows to overlook the backyard oasis.

The space that was previously occupied by the small, existing kitchen was transformed into a mudroom and powder room. The former butler’s pantry was opened—by removing a wall—to make room for the family piano. This also created a desirable open floor plan.

The large wall of glass windows that was added to the kitchen (at the rear of the house) now serves double duty. It allows for a tremendous amount of natural light to enter the kitchen and flow into the existing house, and it also creates a true “picture window” effect—looking out over the back yard and garage.


The kitchen with its island and generous counter space is truly an inviting room to cook, eat or just hang out in, and the brick exterior makes the room seamlessly integrate with the existing house and the back yard.

Building a Detached Garage in Urban Pittsburgh

These homeowners also wanted to build a detached garage in their Point Breeze neighborhood because they not only wanted indoor parking for their two cars, but they also wanted storage for their bikes, camping gear and still have enough room for a workbench. Additionally, since one is an electric vehicle, they also required an electric car charging station to be built into the garage.

Just like the kitchen addition, the garage exterior was designed to blend with the architecture of the existing house as if it were a part of the original construction. The width of the garage extended from one property set-back line to the other to create privacy and limit the access to the back yard from the alleyway. The garage roof was prepped so that the owner could install solar panels (which was completed), and the panels are not visible as parapet walls were designed to conceal the panels.


Underground electrical conduits from the garage to the house were also installed. This connects the solar panels on the garage roof to the “buy back” electric meter and contributes to reducing the home’s carbon footprint.

The main challenge in building the addition and garage was access to the lot. We knew that once we constructed the shell of the garage structure, we would no longer have access to the lot for moving any large or heavy items. We worked the project in such a fashion to ensure all the large materials and heavy lifting was complete before we closed off access to the area.

Whether you want to build your dream home or renovate and expand your home to meet your needs today, we can help you navigate the design-build construction process.

Contact Us.


Preparing Your Fireplace for the Cooler Months

On chilly fall mornings, there’s nothing quite like curling up in front of the fireplace with a hot cup of coffee or tea. Here are some tips to make sure your fireplace is ready before the cool, damp mornings of autumn set in.

Clean the fireplace

For traditional wood-burning stoves, the National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys be professionally swept at least once a year to remove soot and debris. Fall’s a good time to thoroughly clean the fireplace box, chop kindling and make sure you have enough dry wood to last a season.

Natural gas or propane fireplaces still need to be cleaned, as dust and cobwebs can collect.

Turn off the gas

Turn the gas off at both the pilot light and at the gas shut-off valve. Visibly check that the pilot light is off and make sure the fireplace is also completely cool. Additionally, if you suspect a gas leak, call a professional immediately.

Dismantle the fireplace

This includes removing the glass front (if applicable) and the logs. Pro Tip: Take a photo of the logs before disassembly so you know how to reinsert them after cleaning is complete.

Clean the fireplace of debris

Use the hose attachment of your shop-vac or vacuum cleaner to clean the interior of your fireplace of cobwebs and dirt.

Bust the dust

Clean dusty logs with a brush, such as a paintbrush or a toothbrush, and wipe them down with a dry cloth. Next, clean the glass cover with glass cleaner, and then clean the exterior of the frame with warm, soapy water.

Reassemble the fireplace

Using the picture you took earlier as a guide, place the logs back into the fireplace. Remember, these need to be placed exactly as they were for proper functionality and to reduce carbon monoxide poisoning.

Check detectors and fire extinguishers

Now is an ideal time to make sure your carbon monoxide and fire detectors are in good working order. Also, make sure your fire extinguishers are charged and are easily located should you need them.

Design with a Focal Point in Mind

Any designs you create cease to exist without a definitive “focal point.”

But what is a focal point, and why is it so important in design functions? Based on the Gestalt principle, a focal point or emphasis works as the star of the room. It captures the attention of the viewer and accentuates the surroundings.

The use of “focal points” is common across all fields of design, including architecture, interiors, fashion apparel, digital transformation and even in paintings. Although overtly used, focal points are inexplicable for layman’s eye or perception. We, as humans, tend to see a picture in its unified form, where similar patterns and elements are grouped together.

Typically, natural focal points in interior design include windows, doors and fireplaces. But what if your room doesn’t have one? Look at the space as an empty canvas, and create your own focal points by:

  • Accentuating one of the walls
  • Adding artwork
  • Including showstopper furniture piece
  • Using backsplashes in your kitchen

How to Create a Focal Point in Your Room

Creating a focal point doesn’t imply decorating each nook and corner of the room but needs concentration on a single feature to grab attention. Here are some tips for creating a focal point in any living space:

Emphasize the Interiors

Stay budget-friendly by using the already existing elements, such as walls, windows and doors, to create a focal point. Some common ideas are to drape windows, accentuate it with bold artifacts, or texture the walls and ornate them with wall frames and hangings.

Custom-Design Room Décor

If you find natural focal points boring, then create your own with movable, custom-made structures. Look for a patterned partition, false ceiling or an eye-catching centerpiece to create an alluring point of focus.

Reinvent Your Lighting Set-Up

For extra attention, reset your lighting system, but keep the colors and patterns to a minimum. You can even re-establish the aura of your room with proper lighting that also enhances the interior.

Creating a Focal Point in Minimalistic Bathroom

When you first enter your bathroom, it shouldn’t be the mess on the sink that catches your attention. It should be of the design elements. For most of us, the aesthetics of the bathroom are as important as any other room; thus, we believe in creating masterpieces.

Tiled or Textured Walls

Tiles add architectural interest by giving character and depth to your bathroom. You can find a variety of options today, including different textures, materials and appearance. You can be as creative as you want to be.

Trendy Vanity

A bathroom vanity is one of the most purposeful spaces in the bathroom. It’s easy storage for bathroom essentials. But with the right design, it can add visual appeal. However, using vanity as a focal point requires careful planning so that other elements, such as tapware and benchtop, must complement it.

Standalone Bathtubs

A freestanding bathtub can be a head-turner element in your bathroom if you amplify it with the right décor. When using standalone bathtubs, leave ample space around for easy cleaning and maintenance.

Funky Mirrors

Bold, tall mirrors are the latest fads in the bathroom interiors. Accentuate them with funky frames and warm lights for a style statement. However, consider its width, height and proportions when using it as the centerpiece for attraction.

Creating a Focal Point in Modernistic Kitchens

Do you check out the latest kitchen interiors in lifestyle magazines and feel inspired and depressed at the same time?

Watching DIY renovation shows augments your search for home improvement. Here, we have ideas to establish eye-catching, head-turning focal points in your kitchen.

Contrasting Colors

Use bold splashes of colors, such as bright red and yellow hues. Did you know colors have dramatic effects on hunger? So why not accessorize your kitchen with bright colors and make it a homey spot for reunions at dinnertimes when the whole family enjoys a hearty meal?

Wall Décor

They can be crazy and expensive, but you can make it budget-friendly, with monochromatic paint accentuated with a vibrant wall hanging or maybe spoon-holders. Such a setup works well in minimalistic designs where a single element works as a focal point.

Upgrade Pantry

Your pantry is storage for your kitchen essentials, but in modernistic designing, well-organized pantries and cabinets can create visual interests. Showing off the contents of your storage space creates an illusion of a wider and bigger kitchen.

Can You Have More than One Focal Point in a Single Living Space?

The idea of having a singular focal point is a myth. Our living spaces have multiple features and functions that can accentuate the overall look. Thus, having multiple focal points in a single room makes sense.

Stacking all elements on a single wall or corner will create a lopsided image; therefore, you should evenly distribute the focal points for a balanced design. Have you ever heard of the Rule of Three?

Although there is no restriction on the number of focal points that a room can have, stick to three when feeling less confident with your interior design skills. But if it’s a small room, two focal points are your safest bet.

When having multiple focal points, set one to be the most dominant to establish a sense of visual structure. A logical flow in your design declutters the space and creates harmony while adding a dramatic look with multiple accentuated focal points. Typically, a dominant focal point is one that you see first as you enter the space—it could be a wall, window, fireplace or even the furniture.

Finding a focal point is highly important to prevent a chaotic look. Our tips will guide you in finding and designing an attention-grabbing point of focus that will stand out from other elements and functions of the room.

Are you ready to remodel? If you’d like to discuss how we can help you create a beautiful kitchen or master bath, contact us.

The Home Office Re-Imagined

2020 has changed so many things, especially how and where we work. Before this year, many of us only conducted a few hours of business a week at home. We answered emails on our smartphones or did a little work on the laptop while sitting on the couch or at the kitchen island.

McKinsey recently wrote, “…estimates suggest that early this April, 62 percent of employed Americans worked at home during the crisis, compared to about 25 percent a couple of years ago.”

With the shift in how and where we work, a new emphasis on the home office has emerged. Trying to get solid hours of work into a day sitting at the kitchen table simply doesn’t fit our needs anymore. We want a place in the home that limits the distractions and is more comfortable.

If you are considering renovating your home to accommodate a home office, here are our suggested four steps.

Step 1: Define your needs.

Before you look at pretty home office pictures on Pinterest or buy a desk, the first step for any home renovation project is to define your needs. Recognize that your needs will be different than those of your neighbors and friends, so to get to the heart of defining your home office needs, ask yourself, “What do you need the space to do?”

Every professional has a different style of working and has different needs. If you are a consultant, for example, you may need space for files or a door to close for video meetings or recording audio. Graphic artists may need additional space to spread out; others may need a larger desk to house two large monitors for research or to see large spreadsheets.


Step 2: Find a space.

Here are a few options for finding the space you need for a home office.

Option #1: Under-utilized space. Look for under-utilized spaces that can be transformed into a dedicated home office. This will help reduce the number of distractions and increase your overall productivity. Formal dining rooms can be renovated into functional office environments quite easily simply by shifting the way you use the space, as some dining tables make excellent (and spacious) desks.

Take this space to the next level by adding built-in shelves, additional lighting and outlets. A door (or wall, depending on the layout of the space) will certainly increase privacy and reduce noise.

Spare bedrooms are often another under-utilized space that can be transformed. You can switch out the guest bed that is only used a few times a year for a Murphy bed with shelves. Give your office additional storage functionality, and just like with the dining room scenario, remodeling will create a more efficient space.

Option #2: Smaller spaces. If your home doesn’t have a larger space that can be renovated into a home office, smaller spaceswork, too. Desks can be set up behind bi-fold doors. Larger closets can be converted. Even a spare corner of a room can be a good spot for a home office. 

Bonus rooms, basements and lofts can also make great home offices, but as these spaces often do not have a door, you’ll need to consider the number of distractions an open space may have. In this instance, remodeling the space is a great option so it’s better adapted to this new use.

Option #3: Renovate. The third option is to build an addition that adds an office space, perhaps as part of a larger kitchen remodel or another renovation project. With this option, you’ll be able to create the space exactly how you want, and it adds value to your home.

Step 3: Design for functionality.

With your needs and space defined, the next step is to identify what you need in the space to be functional. At a minimum, your home office should have a computer (or laptop), a printer and some type of storage. Here are a few other items you may want to consider including in your home office space:

  • A second monitor makes researching and viewing much easier.
  • An energy-saving surge protector will protect your expensive electronics from any voltage spikes, and the on/off toggle switch can also help conserve energy.
  • Equipment for video conferencing needs include a webcam and headset.
  • High-speed Internet access is a must in today’s telecommuting environment. When considering your options, think about how many people and devices could be using your Internet at the same time. If other family members are streaming shows, playing online video games or also doing work at the same time as you, it will affect your Internet speed.
  • A desk that fits your needs could be a built-in desk, which can create a great space for focused work and give you a lot of storage options.
  • A good chair works wonders, as you’ll be sitting on it all day. Invest in one that fits your body and helps with lumbar support.
  • Adequate lighting, which can come from natural light (windows), overhead or desk lamps.

Step 4: Design for beauty.

Now that you’ve addressed the functionality of your home office space, it’s time to make it beautiful. No matter the square footage, there are always dozens of fun ways to make space fit your personality.

When designing your space, don’t just think horizontal. Think vertically, too. Find ways to get printers, books and other items off the desk and onto shelves. For example, a printer drawer can be built into your desk.

You may also want to create a reading nook with a comfortable chair, ottoman and side table. Many find stepping away from the desk (and screen) for focused reading/reviewing incredibly beneficial to their workday.

Other ideas to make the space uniquely yours:

  • Install a fun chandelier
  • Hang pictures and artwork
  • Add plants or a Zen-like fountain
  • Extend the space outdoors by adding a water feature or garden outside your window or turning the first-floor window into a door that leads to a patio
  • Use LED lighting on shelves for additional work lighting or to highlight a piece of art

Once you start using your new home office, you’ll be happy you invested in creating a dedicated space. If you’d like to discuss ways to redesign your space to create a beautiful and functioning home office, contact us.

Grill Maintenance

No matter what the seasons, it’s always a good time to grill. Here are some tips to keep your barbeque clean – and safe – throughout the year.

  • Clean lightly after every use by turning the heat on high until the grill no longer smokes from burning the food residue (approximately 10 minutes). The remaining grease and food particles will turn to ash and be easier to remove.
  • Scrub the grilling grates with a steel grill brush. This is easier to accomplish when the grates are still warm from the previous step. For more thorough cleaning, use a sponge with soapy water.
  • Degrease the cook box. The cook box will collect grease and food particles – which is a fire hazard and a source where bacteria can grow. Use a brush and soapy water to clean, pushing the excess grease into the collecting bottom tray. Then remove the collecting tray and throw out the grease and debris.
  • Clean the exterior of the grill with soapy water, or if you have a stainless-steel grill, you can use a stainless-steel cleaner.
  • Keep your grill covered to protect it from the outside elements.

NOTE: The above are general recommendations. Always follow your manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, maintenance and repair.

Managing Your Energy Use and Cost

As families are spending more time at home, they will probably notice that they are using more energy than they typically do. Here are a few recommendations we have so you can conserve energy and keep electric bills manageable.

  • Turn off lights when not in use.
  • Devices that are plugged into an outlet can still use a small amount of energy, even when they are not turned on. Connect multiple devices such as phone chargers, laptops and tablets into a power strip that can be turned on and off.
  • Add weather stripping or caulking to windows, doors or other area where outside air can infiltrate. This will help minimize drafts and energy loss all year long.
  • Set your refrigerator between 33-39 degrees.
  • Run the dishwasher when it is full, and use the energy-saving setting for drying dishes or let them air dry.
  • Wash and dry full loads of clothes. If you have smaller loads to wash, set your machine accordingly. For the dryer, use an automatic timer, not a timed cycle. Always make sure the lint trap is cleaned to maximize efficiency and lower energy consumption.
  • Make sure that nothing is blocking your air supply vents, such as furniture or drapes.
  • Lower your water heater to between 120-125 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the optimum temperature.
  • Use a toaster oven, microwave or outside grill, when possible, instead of a conventional oven.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.