Don’t settle for constructing your custom home to minimum building code standards—go beyond the code and consider these additional factors.

Custom homes become forever homes for many homeowners. So it’s important to consider additional standards beyond the minimum building code standards—used by many home builders to price and construct custom homes—that provide longevity to the structure and for the users. Before finalizing a construction budget, discuss with your builders these items as part of the baseline budget.

Accessible Clear Width

Accessibility codes generally don’t apply to single family residences, but the design and construction industry over last few years has been incorporating universal design standards and constructing adaptability provision into homes. For example, a simple provision included in our designed homes is a 32-inch minimum clearance (ADA wheelchair width requirement) for doorways, and a 36-inch minimum clearance between kitchen cabinets and other physical objects like walls and appliances.

Stair Treads and Risers

Most residential codes allow stairs with up to 8-inch risers and 9-inch treads, but these dimensions can be difficult to use—especially for older users. The anthropometric rule of thumb dictates a ratio of two risers plus one tread equals 25 inches. For example: (2)7-inch risers + (1)11-inch tread = 25 inches. Stairs with a 7-inch riser and 11-inch tread is the construction standard for commercial buildings. At Hoffmans Architecture, we design—and strongly suggest—all stairs meet the ±7/11 dimension and 25-inch ratio. For older or semi-ambulatory users, a 6 ½-inch riser with a 12-inch tread is even better.

Shower and Bathtub Grab Bar Support

Installing ¾” plywood behind the tile backer board at shower and tub surrounds is a simple way to ensure the safe future installation of accessible grab bars. They may never be needed, but if they are, the plywood will prevent the need to remodel the shower or tub surround. Most importantly, do not install grab bars without proper support—otherwise, they will fail when used.

HVAC Zones

A three-story home (basement, main level and upper level) should have a heating / AC zone for each floor, which is a different environment given heat gain from sun exposure, ceiling height variation, exterior wall exposure, and stack effect (air movement caused by thermal differences—warmer air rises while cooler air falls), to name a few. During summer months, the upper level can be several degrees warmer than the basement, and during winter months, the upper level can be much cooler—especially at night. Most houses under 2,000 sq ft (above grade) only have one zone (one HVAC unit) for the house. Regardless of size, we specify a minimum of one zone for each level. Utilizing electronic dampers can help increase zones without additional HVAC equipment. Extra zones allow different areas of the home to be cooled or warmed individually, saving energy and costs while providing a more comfortable living environment.

Laundry Room Floor Drain

If your laundry room is above a living space, a floor drain is a smart precaution. Washing machines rarely overflow—but they can, and a lint-clogged hose or a faulty connection drain hose can cause flooding, too. And when they do, the water damage can be significant. A floor drain is a simple and inexpensive precaution.

Kitchen Hood Makeup Air

Kitchen range hoods that exhaust 400 CFM (cubic feet per minute) or more can depressurize new air-tight homes and prevent adequate cooktop ventilation. The best way to prevent this is providing outdoor makeup air via one of a few methods. The most direct (not counting opening a window or door) is a naturally drafted duct or one with an electronic damper that opens when the hood is operating. Other approaches utilize the home’s HVAC system. The air supply register can either be located near the base of the range or at the ceiling. The goal is creating a localized draft that maximizes hood ventilation and captures cooking odors and smoke.

Sump Pump Backup Battery

All homes with a sump pump system should have a backup battery with an automatic charging controller. Power outages can occur during a storm—a critical time for a sump pump to operate.

Window and Exterior Door Flashing

The dirty little secret with WRB (water resistant barriers, house wraps, Tyvek,  etc.) is they allow water to penetrate behind the WRB surface to the wall sheathing—though usually not enough to warrant not using WRBs. However, it is a concern at window and exterior door openings. The building industry has generally been properly installing WRBs and flashing these openings, but not always. For homeowners, the key items to ask your builder are: 1) Are the window sills sloped and membrane flashed? 2) Is flashing tape used to seal the window fin jamb and head to the wall sheathing? and 3) Is a sealant bead used to seal the window fin’s jamb and head (not sill)?Also, make sure your builder doesn’t tape flash over the window fin sill—it needs to drain any water that gets behind the opening.

Electric Subpanel Oversize Capacity

This subject can get complicated, but the important point is knowing it’s best to oversize the electrical subpanel for unknown future needs. This will simplify adding future circuits versus an additional subpanel.

Downspouts Connect to Below Grade Drain Pipes

The best defense against rainwater damaging your home is directing it away from the home’s perimeter a minimum of 10 feet. Water collected with gutters and funneled to downspouts needs to be discharged away from the home’s perimeter. The best method is connecting the downspout to a below-grade drain pipe that discharges a safe distance from your home.

Radon / Moisture Vent Stack (passive mitigation)

Mitigating radon and other gases present in the soil beneath homes is a health concern for homeowners. The presence of radon can be random—your next-door neighbor may have radon present and your house may not (but may in the future). Installing a passive radon vent pipe is a smart, easy preventative measure to mitigate subsoil gas. A passive vent also helps with mitigating subsoil moisture vapors that migrate into a basement. The vent pipe, with a tee-section end located in the gravel bed below the basement concrete slab, creates negative pressure that allows gas and water vapors to escape upward to the outdoors and not into your home.

Keep in mind building codes are just minimum standards design to ensure safe and resilient structures. Don’t limit your custom home’s design and systems to this standard. Go beyond and construct a home that better meets your current and future needs.