Choosing the Best Lot to Build Your Custom Home

miniature wood home on grassChoosing the best lot to build your custom house on plays a major role in the enjoyment of your home, as well as affects what the lot and house costs you both upfront and over the long term.

Here’s a list of what to consider when selecting a lot.

The Commute

Unless you work at home, you want to factor in the commute time to work. When testing out the commute, drive during the week at times you’ll normally drive to work, but also drive to stores you frequently visit as well as other places you drive often such as to your child’s school or to church.

The Community

The place you choose to live is where you will spend the majority of your time. It should be a community you want to support. Consider the quality of the school system particularly if you plan to or already have children. It’s also pertinent to consider the school system even if you don’t as school reputation affects resale value.

Resale Value

Speaking of resale value, place this on the list of important considerations. It’s not only the quality of the school system that affects resale value, but also how far the land is away from major cities, shopping and attractions, and if the city has quality parks and other recreational facilities. If you live further out in the country, the land may cost less but have a lower resale value and you may face difficulty selling it.

Future Development

Consider what areas nearby are slotted for future commercial and residential development. The growth outlook may appeal to you, or you may be dissuaded by too much commercial growth infringing on your lifestyle. To find out more information about the plan for areas of undeveloped land near your lot, contact your local planning and zoning departments, where you can also find out about any upcoming meetings related to development.

Real Estate Taxes

Research real estate taxes, including any potential increases expected, particularly relevant if you are building your house in a fast-growing area with the need to build new schools.


Lots located in more secluded areas, or on a cul-de-sac have less traffic and noise, but lots located on corners offer easier, quicker access on a daily basis.

Landscaping and Snow Removal

When it comes to the debate between corner lot vs interior lot, snow removal and landscaping are considerations. With a corner lot you have two sides which means more yard maintenance and snow removal, if there are sidewalks on both the front and side. Yet with a cul-de-sac lot, the front yard may be narrow, requiring the house to be set back farther so you have a long driveway that also requires more snow removal, and you lose much of your backyard and have to invest more money in landscaping the front yard since it’s more visible. You also lose the option to install a pool or other structure in the backyard if your space is more limited in the back of the house.

Your House Plan

A critical factor in deciding on a lot is if the house you plan to build fits within the buildable area of the lot. If the land has rock outcroppings or utility easements, it affects the buildable area. Your builder or the developer can help you determine the buildable area.

The Sun

Most of a house’s windows sit at the back of the house where most of the living spaces are – the kitchen, living room, etc. – and this is where you want sunlight to come in. If the windows are on the south side of the house, you’ll enjoy sunlight for most of the day. But if they are on the north side, you won’t get any direct sunlight at all. And if those windows face west, the hot afternoon sun will pour in and make the house extra hot and likely fade your furniture and carpeting. Also consider that the orientation of the house along with proper positioning of doors and windows maximizes the use of the sun’s heat, and helps you to save on energy bills.


A house placed on a slope costs more to build than one placed on flat land, and it may limit the amount of backyard space. However, a sloping lot is ideal for a walk-out basement. Analyze the pros and cons the sloped lot has in terms of your design, and determine if you can build on the lot without incurring a much greater expense.


Soil type can greatly affect the construction cost. The varying types of soils drain differently and retain water in different ways, and this affects how they support a building. You can have the soil analyzed by the local county extension service and the developer or builder should be able to tell you how the soil type has impacted other construction projects nearby.

Developed vs Undeveloped

If you purchase a lot outside of a developed area, you may have to pay to run electricity, phone lines and water to the house. You may even have to drill a well or install a septic system. Purchasing a lot in a developed area that has the utilities already installed will save you money.

Zoning Ordinances

Check with the local government about zoning ordinances that may permit you from building on the land, or that may restrict you from building the house you want. A subdivision also may have restrictions on what type of home you can build on their lots. Additionally, consider the other rules the subdivision imposes (e.g. where you can park your vehicle, if you can have a pool, etc.) in selecting your lot.

All lots have their pros and cons, but using these considerations can help you to select the right lot for your custom home needs.

For a look at home plans for a range of lots, visit our Custom Home Gallery


14 Crucial Tasks to Include on Your Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

house in fall_fall home maintenance checklist

Now that we’re heading into fall, it’s time to prepare your home for the winter months. Doing so will protect your home from damage and reduce your utility costs.

1. Inspect the roof for any damage – including missing or damaged shingles — to prevent a leaking roof during winter. Also look for damage to the rest of the home’s exterior, including the siding and foundation, and make repairs as needed.

2. Schedule a heating system inspection. The technician will make sure your system is working properly and efficiently.

3. Seal gaps around siding, windows and door frames. Silicone caulk works well on exterior surfaces because it won’t shrink or be affected by outdoor elements. More recent houses (built within the last 50 years) often don’t need new weatherstripping around doors but older homes might or you need it if you can see daylight around the door from inside the home. Also seal gaps around the home, such as on the foundation, where rodents could enter. Mice only need a small gap to enter, and they’ll be looking for a warm home once winter hits.

4. Clean your gutters. Do so before the snow hits to prevent clogged gutters when the snow melts, particularly to prevent ice dams which occur when melting water backs up and leaks into your home. Also make sure the gutters are directing water away from the foundation and not dumping it around your foundation; install an extender if necessary to direct the water at least 3 to 4 feet away from your home’s foundation.

5. Prevent ice dams. Speaking of ice dams, clogged gutters are not the only factor responsible for causing ice dams. Hire a home energy auditor to identify areas of air leaks and inadequate insulation, which contribute to the formation of ice dams.

6. Inspect your fireplace. Hire a chimney sweep to make sure your fireplace and vents are clean and in adequate working order. This will help to prevent fires and carbon monoxide exposure.

7. Mow leaves. Use the lawn mower without its bag. Mow first in one direction, and then mow in the opposite direction. This cuts the leaves into small pieces to serve as mulch, which will decompose and nourish the lawn throughout the winter.

8. Store the lawn mower. After you are done mowing the leaves, store the mower for the winter, but winterize it first. Any fuel left in the mower’s engine decomposes and can cause problems that make the mower engine difficult to start when it’s first used months later. Check the owner’s manual for proper cold-weather storage instructions. And make sure to winterize any other gas powered maintenance tools as well.

9. Turn off the water to all outside faucets. Drain the hoses, and also turn off the shut-off value inside your home. Water left undrained can freeze and cause pipes to burst when the ice expands. Watch this video for what can happen if your pipes freeze.

Frozen Spigot=Drenched Theater Room

10. Inspect your sump pump. Test it by slowly pouring water into the sump pit to make sure the pump turns on.

11. Reverse the ceiling fan blades. Some models have a reserse switch. If yours does, use it. It will push the heated air at the ceiling down into the room, making the room feel warmer, and allowing you to turn down the thermostat a few notches to save energy and money.

12. Buy winter supplies early. Don’t wait until winter to buy shovels and ice melt. Stock up now, and include two shovels in your purchase for when one breaks. When buying ice melt, stick with calcium chloride as rock salt (sodium chloride) can eat away at concrete.

13. Check your safety devices, including the batteries on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and the expiration on your fire extinguisher.

14. Clean your dryer vents. Lint buildup in dryer vents can cause a fire. Also make sure your dryer vent has a screen on it to prevent rodents from entering it when they are seeking warmth. If you don’t want to hire a duct cleaning service, here’s the basic steps to do it yourself (you should consult your owner’s manual for more exact instructions):

  • Unplug the dryer/shut off the gas if a gas dryer.
  • Pull the dryer away from the wall.
  • Loosen the hose clamp.
  • Slide the hose off.
  • Vacuum inside of the hose, vent and behind the dryer.
  • Replace the hose, and tighten the hose clamp.
  • Move the dryer back towards the wall, and plug it in.

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Energy Saving Tips to Save You Money Through the Last Days of Summer

Electric power poles with sunset behindWe’re in the midst of traditionally some of the hottest days of the summer. As you enjoy these last few weeks of August (and even September can see some high temps) we’d like to share with you some energy saving tips. You’ll save on your utility bills, and be prepared to save money and conserve energy next summer.

AC Operation

  • It’s not too late for an air conditioner tune-up. You’ll get your AC unit in shape this year, and will potentially have less issues to address next year, plus you’ll uncover any hidden issues that could turn into a larger problem if left unresolved. During servicing request that your AC Coil is cleaned. Air conditioning units need sufficient air flow to perform efficiently.
  • Set your air conditioner as high as possible, at least to a minimum of 78 degrees when you’re home, and 85 degrees when you’re not home. You use about 3%-5% more energy per degree when your air conditioner is set below 75 degrees F.
  • Replace AC filters monthly for the most efficient operation.

Home Performance

  • Windows and doors often leak air, and your walls may not have sufficient insulation. Seal leaks around doors and windows, and install weather-stripping and insulation. A home energy audit — available through many local utilities for free or a low cost — can uncover where you’re wasting energy.
  • Keep windows, blinds and curtains closed during the day, particularly if those windows face the sun. Even better install heat-trapping blackout curtains or heat control window film on your windows to keep heat out.
  • Perform heat producing activities such as cooking and laundry during the cooler hours of the day.
  • Air-dry dishes and clothing, and wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.
  • Avoid opening doors any more than necessary, particularly on hot days.
  • Refrain from activities that generate heat including burning candles, watching TV, and using curling irons or hair dryers.
  • Close doors and vents to rooms you aren’t using; e.g. if you have an extra bedroom not currently used don’t waste money cooling it.
  • Use pool and spa covers; they can reduce heat loss as much as 90%.

Other Appliances

  • Use a ceiling fan to provide extra cooling and air circulation. Ceiling fans make you feel cooler, but they use less electricity than your AC unit; a ceiling fan costs about 5 cents per hour to operate. Set the fan in the counterclockwise direction so it pulls cool air from the floor and circulates it. And turn off the fan when you leave the room.
  • Install a programmable thermostat and use it. If you are regularly gone during the day it’s easy to set it so your home is warmer while you are gone, but by the time you come home it’s cool. A programmable thermostat can save you as much as $180 yearly in energy costs.
  • Replace appliances with Energy Star appliances. Often local utility companies offer rebates for updating your appliances, and the Federal government has programs offering tax breaks for purchasing and installing more energy efficient appliances.
  • Plug electronics — such as Blu-ray players, TVs, and gaming systems — into power strips, and turn off the power when they are not in use.
  • Move refrigerators and freezers from the garage to an insulated area such as the basement or an unused room. The unit won’t have to work as hard if it’s in a cooler location.

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Custom Fabricated Bars For Your Home or Business

J.T. Unique is our fabrication shop comprised of two divisions: Cozy Cabin Outfitters (themed décor packages for homeowners), and custom fabricated items manufactured primarily for the commercial industry (although still available to anyone). In our fabrication shop we most often batch produce unique custom furnishings, cabinetry and other pieces for hotels, restaurants and other commercial businesses.

A Look at Our Shop

J. Thompson Builders J.T. Unique Shop Production Area

Behind the scenes look at our clean, organized shop with outstanding woodworking tools.

Custom Fabricated Bars: Production and Finished

One of the products we often produce for our clients are bars tops. Our custom bar tops are made from reclaimed wood from old barns and factories. We finish each with a durable high gloss resin to make them long-lasting and resistant to stains, and general wear and tear. These bar tops withstand years of use at our commercial clients’ hotels and restaurants.

J. Thompson Builders_J.T. Unique bar production process

Custom Fabricated Bar production process

J. Thompson Builders_J.T. Unique finished bars

Finished and installed custom fabricated bars

While the basic bar top material used is reclaimed wood, we can also add metal, stone or other items to personalize them. Whatever you have in mind, we can work with you to design a unique bar suited to the style of your home or business.

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Best Home Remodeling Projects for 2016

houseIn our last blog 7 Costly Home Improvement Mistakes to Avoid we told you that over half of U.S. adults completed a home improvement project within the last 12 months, and that the home remodeling market has grown steadily with more growth expected this year. It’s an industry that is no doubt not slowing down.

But what remodeling tips are most relevant in 2016? These home improvements are most attractive to buyers today, and the projects that will help you to recoup the most money when you sell.

Adding/Remodeling a Fireplace

Fireplaces are at the top of buyers’ list. A stylish, functional fireplace adds to your home’s value – as much as $12,000 says the National Association of Realtors.

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring may or may not affect the final selling price of the home, but they do enhance your home and help it to sell faster. Most buyers prefer hardwood over carpet. The only place buyers sometimes prefer carpet? Answer: the bedrooms.

Door Replacement

Replacing the front door with a better quality door can increase the home’s selling price significantly. Fiberglass doors have a ROI (return on investment) of 72%, while steel doors increase the return by as much as 101.8%.

Kitchen Remodel

Because so much time is spent in the kitchen home buyers look at the kitchen as a room that can make or break the sale. On a minor kitchen remodel, the national average payback was 79.3% in Remodeling magazine’s 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, while a major kitchen remodel (over $20,000) brings in a bit lower ROI at 65%.

Adding an Extra Bedroom

We’ve been talking about the value of adding extra bedrooms and living spaces for a few years, particularly to move in aging parents or to house young adult children not quite ready to leave the nest. Some recent data suggests it’s also a beneficial selling point as simply turning an attic space into a bedroom can increase your home value by $39,908. This may be in part due to the fact that a bigger family demands more living space and is willing to pay for it.

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7 Costly Home Improvement Mistakes to Avoid

tools-1183374_192053% of U.S. adults completed a home improvement project within the past 12 months according to Nielsen Scarborough. IBISWorld estimates home remodeling as a $52 billion market, growing 3.8% between 2009 and 2014. Remodeling activity is predicted to have year-over-year quarterly growth averaging 4.4% in 2016. But not all home improvements are solid investments, and these mistakes may cost you more in either or both the short or long term.

Hiring a Contractor

Get quotes from and interview several contractors to make sure you choose one you trust and whose ideas aligns with your vision. Check their references and ask them about their credentials and licensing. Check the Better Business Bureau to find out if they’ve had complaints logged against them. Get all agreements in writing.

Return on Investment

If you plan to sell your home and recoup the money you invest in a home improvement project make sure the project offers a good return. While renovations can cost thousands of dollars, they generally won’t increase the value of the home by that much. Most buyers will pay more for a “visible” upgrade such as high-end appliances, but they won’t be willing to pay more for hidden upgrades such as new electrical wiring. The value a home improvement project retains at resale varies in each market. Remodeling Magazine offers a Cost vs Value report to illustrate the differences. For example, San Francisco averages greater than a 100% return on the suite of 27 projects Remodeling Magazine evaluates (a number unseen in any other market, but most likely due to the housing shortage); nothing in Des Moines, IA returns more than 71%. Real estate agents and contractors may be able to advise you on the potential return you’ll receive from a project.


Consider how your home stacks up to others in the neighborhood. If its market value is on the high end already improvements won’t increase its value much. A home’s value is usually dependent on and limited by the median price of the other homes in the neighborhood.

Cheap Materials, Being Frugal

The old adage “you get what you pay for” runs true in home improvement as well. Don’t cut corners by using cheap materials. Otherwise you may have to make expensive repairs down the road because you chose cheap over quality. The cost difference between many materials is minor, yet choosing higher quality materials (such as tile over vinyl) will set your home apart from the rest. And if you can’t afford the materials now, it’s better to wait until you can.


Once the project begins, it’s best to stick to the plan as much as possible. If you change your mind after a piece of the project is finished it can require tearing it out and starting over. Contractors may also charge change order fees anytime the plan is reworked.


Secure any necessary permits, and check on the requirements BEFORE starting a project. Permits are there to protect you, and to ensure your home is safe. Often inspections are required at the rough-in and finishing stages for many remodeling and renovation projects. If you don’t acquire the proper permits, it could result in fines and you may have to tear out any work completed. Contact your local city office to ask about permits, and make sure your contractor has the proper permits before beginning work.


Don’t set an unrealistic budget. You don’t want to run out of cash mid-project. Your project can get more expensive once it’s underway if you aren’t prepared for the costs. Get estimates from several different contractors so that you understand the project’s cost. Then add 10-20% to the total to have in reserve in case any issues arise.

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Custom Fabricated Mantels Add Unique Style to Your Home or Business

We specialize in knotty, gnarly, natural wood mantels.

We specialize in knotty, gnarly, natural wood mantels.

J.T. Unique is our fabrication shop; it’s actually comprised of two divisions, our Cozy Cabin Outfitters (themed décor packages for homeowners), and custom fabricated items primarily for the commercial industry. In our fabrication shop we batch produce unique custom furnishings, cabinetry and other pieces for hotels, restaurants and other commercial businesses.

You can see some of the work we’ve done for the hospitality industry here:

From Drab to Fab: Building Custom Hotel Furniture for the Hospitality Industry

Sometimes the two divisions even overlap, as is the case with our custom mantels which are produced for commercial use as well as part of our Adirondack Retreat themed décor packages. As well J.T. Unique provides service to our custom home building and remodeling customers, offering custom fabricated mantels as an option.

Our custom mantels are a popular product for both homes and commercial properties. Our signature design – a cost effective choice – is a wavy timber mantle with a custom distressed glazed finish.We also specialize in using knotty, gnarly, natural wood materials. And we often produce coped log mantles (a unique style where two logs are fitted together following the curve).

Our signature wavy timber mantel.

Our signature wavy timber mantel.

Whatever you have in mind, we can work with you to design a mantle that is unique and represents the style of your home or business.

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What to Look For in a Home Renovation Contract

man signing home renovation contractA well written home renovation contract is thorough, and explains exactly what is to be done and how. The contract should also explain potential risks and issues and how they will be handled. Failure to read and understand the contract offers you as a homeowner no protection, but understanding your home renovation contract and making sure it offers everyone involved clear directions and responsibilities reduces the chances of disagreements, or financial or legal trouble.

Scope of Work

The scope of work is a detailed outline of what the job entails. A renovation contract should include project descriptions along with the materials and quantities required, including product model, color, size and brand. And it’s helpful if the contract explains the timeline of when each part of the project should occur so you can ensure the workers are making the expected progress.

The Schedule

The renovation contract should set the estimated start and completion date. It’s not uncommon for delays to occur, some caused by the client or contractor, and some out of either’s control, but it’s important to have an end goal to strive towards and to try to get back on track whenever delays occur.

The Cost (i.e. the Bid) & Payment

The agreement should clearly state prices and be inclusive. Ask if there are any additional fees or costs not included in the contract such as clean-up fees or the cost for temporary power.

The agreement should outline the payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers, and it should include what payment methods are acceptable, and if installment payments are an option. The contract may also include late payment penalties; know what these are in advance.

Contractor Responsibilities

The contract should clearly state what the contractor will and won’t do, including site clean-up and hauling trash. It’s important to understand who will be responsbile for the site clean-up work. As well it should clearly state who is selecting materials if some materials are to be chosen later and are not included in the original scope of work.


A renovation contract includes an estimate of the cost of materials. But because all costs can’t be completely accurately accounted for during the bidding process, the allowance acts as the budget for particular items, such as the kitchen cabinets. A contractor, through the contract, is allotted a certain budget in choosing such items so that the costs are still accounted for even through the total cost is not yet completely decided.

Agreement Changes

Renovation contracts should include a process for the contractor to follow if there are changes to the scope of work. A detailed contract should prevent a large amount of changes, but expect a few changes. Because changes are sometimes costly and time consuming, the agreement should clearly state how to handle such changes. (i.e. the homeowner must be notified and give consent first).


The renovation contract should include information about any warranties which cover the material and work performed. It should include details of the names and contact information of who is covering the warranty, including contractors and manufacturers. The warranty period and any limitations should also be clearly explained.


Because of the risks involved in construction, a renovation contract should contain information about insurance. If a contractor does not have adequate insurance, you may be held liable. Even if the contractor carries liability insurance (to cover harm caused by construction to non-workers and property), as well as worker’s compensation (to cover injury to workers), you may want to ensure you have builder’s risk or other renovation insurance to cover damage from fire, wind or theft.

Because a renovation contract, once accepted, becomes a legally binding contract, understand the terms and conditions completely before signing. This ensures both your and your contractor will face fewer issues during the renovation process.

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Is It Worth It? Resale Value of Home Renovations

Based on the influx of home improvement shows, you’d think home renovation jobs are always an improvement and equate to a higher resale value. But how much will that home improvement project cost and is it worth it in the long run? Our friends at and Hanley Wood bring us this informative infographic to show you the real costs of a home renovation.


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Building Safety Month: History of the International Code Council

construction of commercial buildingDid you know May is Building Safety Month?

It happens every May, and it’s a public awareness campaign established by the International Code Council (ICC) in conjunction with its worldwide members and professionals from the construction, design and safety industries. During this month the ICC helps individuals as well as businesses understand the need for codes, and their strong enforcement, as well as the need for a professionally trained workforce to maintain the system, all so we have safe and sustainable structures.

But why are building codes all that important you may wonder, and why should you care? Well, if you (or people you care about) live in, work in, or ever enter a building, you should consider stringent, professional building codes important!

History of the Codes

The establishment of building codes purportedly dates back to as early as 1800 BC. The first known building code was enforced by the Babylonian emperor Hammurabi, and called the Code of Hammurabi. It simply stated “If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.”

Several building regulation codes were passed throughout the subsequent years, sometimes in reaction to disastrous events such as the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904. Much of the earlier codes were focused on fire resistance, but later codes focused as much on public health.

In the early twentieth century building regulations in the United States were based on building codes developed by regional model code groups: the Building Officials Code Administrators International (east coast and midwest), Southern Building Code Congress International (southeast) and the International Conference of Building Officials (west coast and midwest).

About the International Code Council

While the regional codes were deemed effective, in the early 1990s the three model code groups decided to organize and in 1994 they formed the International Code Council, a non-profit organization, as an effort to develop codes without regional limitations. The first edition of the International Building Code was published in 1997 and was based on the codes previously used by all three organizations. The ICC has been in existence ever since and still holds the mission of providing high quality codes and standards to create safe buildings and in turn protect the health, safety and welfare of people. The ICC’s International Codes® are comprehensive building safety and fire prevention codes that safeguard people at home, at school and in the workplace.

Conclusion/How You Can Help

This year’s Building Safety Month theme is Building Codes: Driving Growth through Innovation, Resilience and Safety. Each week of May there is a specific theme about building safety. You can check out the International Code Council’s events on their website, learn more about building codes, use the resources they provide to assist you in promoting Building Safety Month in your community or find out how to become a sponsor. Because while they are hard at work making sure our buildings are inhabitable, most of us take for granted the safety of the structures we walk through and live in every day.

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