custom home build tips

I can hardly believe it but we’re coming up on two years in our home! This is a reader request I’ve gotten several times and I finally polled Russ and we put our answers together for today’s post. Let me say I know this sounds like major First World Problems, and our experience is not the norm because Russ built the dang thing himself. So certain upgrades and extra touches were no brainers for us because it was minimal cost and “free” labor, which might not be feasible or cost effective otherwise.

Either way, if you’re going to invest the time and money it takes to build a custom home it should absolutely be everything you want and more! So don’t eye-roll too hard, but here we go!  Good choices we feel we made, things we wish had done, a couple we did and could’ve skipped.


  • Windows:  Using an architect (or if you have those talents, props to you!) who came and literally set up a camping chair and worked with our views was the best money we spent. He thought of everything and made our home so special. Everywhere you turn there is a thoughtful window placement that looks like a landscape painting.

  • Plugs: I polled YOU guys about plugs years ago (this post has your answers!) and you didn’t fail me. We did as many as we could think of, and I still would’ve taken more. Literally every wall and countertop in your house should have at least one. Load up on them in the kitchen and bathroom and anywhere you have electronics. Put them in your toilet room, next to beds, in the top bunk. You won’t regret it!
  • Pot Filler: I get asked about this one a lot and I am dead serious I use my pot filler, if not everyday, nearly everyday. Our $50 pot filler // Kitchen Tour!
  • Wired speakers:  We have 6 zones in the home, living room, garage, master + master bath, and back patio. They’re connected to bluetooth through an app so we can play music wherever we are! Of course there are a million ways to do this, but I love the seamless, cordless-ness of it and the sound quality is amazing.

#framefarme KITCHEN

  • Metal Roof: A worthy investment that never needs replacing. It sounds incredible in the rain, too!
  • Central Vac Kick Plate: like in hair salons, we installed a suction right into our island so you turn it on and can sweep your floor right into it and it sucks it away to a canister in the garage. It makes me so happy.
  • Drinking Fountain: My kids use it multiple times a day, and their friends do too. Saves on cups and dishwashing and hydrates them more than I ever could!#framefarme: mud + garage
  • Washer + Dryer on both floors: Having a washer dryer in my closet is a game changer, but if you can’t swing that, each level is amazing, too. Simply for the sake of carrying loads up and down stairs. The kids have already started to do their own laundry and having it where they are is so important to me!
  • Laundry Shelving: We recently added shelving to the boys’ laundry room and the system is truly the greatest. I wash, dry and sort one kid at a time, their clean clothes wait in their own basket in the laundry until we’re ready to fold and put away. Deep shelving holds  a basket for each of them, a basket for socks, and a basket for linens and towels and also doubles as a place to hang air dry. I didn’t even style this, I just snapped a pic, it holds up! It looks prettyyy good even when we’re not tryingLaundry System | Small Fry
  • Front Door: Russ wanted to include this, we LOVE ours and it sets the tone for the whole house, the pivot hinge is always memorable with guests, too. Via CBW Doors.
  • I had Russ put in dark-activated hallway lights that illuminate softly right at foot level. So great for a late night snack or trip to the bathroom. I’d add them IN bathrooms, too! Ours just stay on all night and I think motion sensors would’ve been even better.Custom Home Build Tips | Small Fry
  • Cement + Patio Work: Unless you know you’re going to get landscaping in immediately, think about a patio, or cement pad or even driveway for playing. Dirt is already going to haunt you, but this will help a bit! Make sure your cement guy isn’t a total crook, but that’s another story for another day.
  • Kitchen Wins: Utensil Cups, Double ovens, Sheet Pan Cabinet, 12″ deep pantry shelves. Standard shelving is too deep for a pantry and means your food gets lost behind itself. I love being able to see everything!

#framefarme KITCHEN

  • Front Door Privacy – when someone is standing at our front door waiting to come in, they can’t see past our entry hall’s wall. All our past houses you could see the kitchen sink from the front door, not cute. 😉
  • One thing I suggest to anyone building is to plan your rooms and write every single belonging that will go into that room. Make sure there is a place for everything! Plan each cabinet in your kitchen for what will go in it. Think about storage and off-season gear and clothing, crafts and hobbies, and take the time to thoughtfully create space for them. Everything in my home has a place and that made the custom home building process so special and worth it for me.
  • Tile – I stand by this decision! Tile looks great despite mud and dirt and flooding. I can handle deep cleaning grout over damaged wood planks or carpet.


  • Russ was General + did 90% of the house himself, but somehow our main subcontractor (who did our stucco, stone, and all our cement work) turned out to be a nightmare. Ask your GC for all the subcontractors’ info. Research their work yourself. Make sure they’re insured, licensed, accredited, have an actual business with the state, social media presence, whatever they should be before they work on your home.
  • If you can’t have different thermostats for different levels, try to put your thermostat on a wall that isn’t effected by extremes. We put ours in the sunniest room by the draftiest door. So it’s impossible to try and keep both floors comfortable.  If we try our basement is freezing in the Summer and the upstairs is too hot in the Winter.
  • Side Entry / Hidden Garage:  So when you drive up to the home, your garage isn’t front-facing. Most homes you’ll see the garage built-in right in the front facade which is fine, and what we ended up with but would’ve loved to have side entry! (Photo via)Custom Home Build Tips | Small Fry
  • Door entrance into garage: (not just the garage doors.) Being able to go in and out of the garage without having to open the whole garage door would be so nice. I think that’s standard for most places and now I see why.
  • Air flow factors with windows: We have very few working windows in our main living room. We did really only two plus a door to the backyard out of ALL of these. A few more for air flow would’ve been nice. But really not ALL your windows need to open and the one that do change the appearance of your window if your grid-less (think hardware and screens). So think about that either way!
  • Closets, Kitchen or any room with a lot of cabinets, racks, or built-ins. Start the plans with it way bigger than you think you need because once it’s all in there it shrinks it down quite a bit. My closet felt huge in planning mode and then not as much when all the fixtures were added.
  • Basement laundry room is tight and could’ve used a couple feet in the width.
  • We did a little kiddie doorway under the stairs “for fun” as a hideout, but didn’t factor getting an adult size body in there to clean. Worst chore in the house!
  • A standalone fridge and freezer. Or a huge solo fridge inside and a freezer in the garage. Never enough room in the combos!
  • Russ wishes we did double dishwashers.


  • A “Costco Door” – it’s only maybe 15 steps further from the Costco door or just walking the groceries in the regular path here. So unless your pantry door actually shortens your path significantly, you may not use it like you think.
  • Central Vac – the kick plate in the kitchen is my favorite, but I rarely get out the whole Central Vac system, making it my goal to use it more.
  • Lockers – We keep all the shoes in the garage so that helps, but lockers just collects junk in my experience. Let me rephrase, the floor below the lockers collects junk. Like can’t we at least put the backpack inside the locker? No? Cool. A place to drop your stuff in the garage like hooks for coats and backpacks seems like it would be enough? Having a place to put snow clothes and gloves etc is really the only thing we use them for that I didn’t plan another option for!



  • Sara Terry
    June 19, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    Thanks for all the info. I feel like I’ve thought about a lot of those items but of course once you actually build it it always changes. I’m gonna take more notes and fill out rooms. Would you guys general again and what would you do differently on that? We are thinking about doing the general ourselves with our son in law who has just done a full gut remodel on his home. Thoughts?
    All this I do is so valuable. Thank you! I also agree on the wood floors. We have dogs and active family even tho my kids are older. I hate to spend money on a wood floor to get scratched. What do you think of LVP? I may go that route for cost and durability.

    • Diane Filler
      July 16, 2020 at 11:24 pm

      I, too, enjoyed your comments about your beautiful home. I am also curious about the flooring choice. The other person inquired as to why you didn’t go with Luxury Vinyl Plank. My decision has ended up being a face off with LVP and wood look porcelain tile. How did you come to your decision?


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