Brake Light Homes

Brake Light Homes

How your choices affect the cost of your new home.

What’s a “brake light home”? One that is so stunning, that brake lights come on as people slow down to take in its beauty while driving by! New homes of almost any size, at almost any price point, can exude curb appeal. But curb appeal has a price tag. While your home’s exterior design and style will, in large part, dictate costs, there are still many choices you can make that will significantly affect your home’s attractiveness and cost.

#8532 Kendrick

The Kendrick (#8532) plan is less than 1,200 square feet, yet is a definite “Brake Light” home!

Your choice of roofing can have a sizable impact on your home’s price and appearance. More than two out of three homes get topped off with asphalt shingles, which also tend to be among the most competitively priced options. Typically backed by a 20-year warranty, three-tab shingles are the thinnest and least expensive. Adding dimension and shadow lines, architectural asphalt shingles are thicker, heavier, more expensive, and often backed by 30-year and even longer warranties. Depending on where you live, spending a little more for hail impact-resistant and/or high wind-rated shingles may reduce your homeowner’s insurance premiums more than their incremental increase to your mortgage payment, reducing your actual monthly housing cost. Also, keep in mind that light-colored shingles reflect sunlight, helping lower utility bills in hot climates, while dark shingles absorb sunlight, keeping homes warmer and reducing heating costs in colder climates.

Residential metal roofing has been growing steadily in popularity. Steel and aluminum are the most common metals used, though copper has long been a popular accent metal roof product. Metal roofing prices start competitively with higher-end architectural asphalt shingles. You can expect metal roofing to last 50 years or longer, and many metal roofing products qualify for insurance discounts. Standing seam metal roofing has visible vertical “ribs,” and newer metal roofing profiles simulate wood shakes, shingles, tile, and slate. One reported downside is that metal roofing can be noisier in rain and hailstorms.

In spite of their distinctive good looks, cedar shakes have fallen out of favor due to their higher initial cost and high ongoing homeowner’s insurance expense. Slate is sometimes still used in the northeast; clay or cement tiles predominately appear on roofs in the southwest and Florida, a natural complement to Mediterranean exterior styling. In addition to being more expensive roofing material, slate and tile are heavier, requiring additional roof engineering and framing expense.

Shingles Cost Comparison Chart

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Man-made composite shingles have largely replaced wood shakes and slate roofing. Often considered a green building product due to using recycled content, composite shingles look strikingly similar to their natural counterparts but are much lighter, backed by long warranties, and very durable – with some carrying those insurance discount opportunities for high wind and hail impact ratings.

Your siding options, like roofing, also have considerable impact on your home’s appearance and cost. Vinyl is the most widely used siding material due to its relatively low-maintenance (no painting required!) and generally being the lowest cost. Thickness of the siding and the presence of insulated backing are primary cost factors. Engineered wood (e.g., LP® SmartSide®) and fiber-cement (e.g., James Hardie HardiePlank®) prices start comparable with high-end vinyl siding. Both options are very durable, with HardiePlank carrying a non-pro-rated 30-year warranty, while SmartSide’s 50-year warranty is pro-rated after 5 years. As with natural wood siding, which tends to be slightly more expensive than engineered wood, re-painting every 5-10 years adds to the cost of ownership, but also allows you (or the next owner) to change your home’s color. Note: siding profiles other than the traditional horizontal look, such as shakes, board and batten, etc., will add cost. Typically, higher than wood siding, masonry products tend to be relatively close to each other in pricing, with stucco (natural or EIFS) a little less than brick; and brick a little less than faux stone (e.g., cultured stone). Real stone, however, can be two to three times more expensive. Due to the added costs, masonry finishes are often used as accents and focal points, rather than completely covering your home’s exterior. Masonry products not only look great, they require little upkeep and are extremely durable, helping you avoid future replacement costs.

Windows can have a sizable impact on your home’s price, but you may not “see” the difference. We’ll limit this topic to standard windows as specialty windows run the gamut of pricing. Beyond the number and size of windows, major factors include the type (e.g., single hung, double-hung, sliding, casement); frame material (e.g., vinyl, wood, clad); window performance, options such as grids between the glass panes; and of course, brand.

Type. Single-hung windows are typically the least expensive, having a stationary upper, while the lower sash raises and often tilts in for cleaning. Based on retail pricing for egress windows from a well-known brand, next on the price ladder are casement windows (25%-40% higher than single-hung), which are hinged on one side and crank outwards; sliding windows (60%-90% higher than single-hung), having one sash which slides horizontally; and double-hung windows (roughly twice the price of single hung) in which both the upper and lower sashes raise, lower, and tilt-in.

Frame Material. Vinyl windows are usually the least costly as well as being low maintenance. Expect to spend 15%-30% more for fiberglass, around 50%-75% more for wood, and 75%-200% more for clad and composite windows. Keep in mind, these price differences are for the windows only, not including installation.

Even for a modest home like the Krebs Pointe (#42395), the window frame material makes a big difference in price. Using retail pricing for the egress windows from a well-known national brand, the vinyl double-hung window package cost is $1,880, while the aluminum-clad/wood interior window package priced out at $5,176. 

Krebs Pointe - #42395

Window Performance. With new homes being built to more stringent energy codes today, most windows are going to be double-panes of glass, and many are built with low-e coatings on the glass and may be filled with a gas such as Argon between the panes. For additional energy savings, some windows have three panes of glass. Also, some windows are impact resistant for protection against flying debris, and/or built to withstand very high wind pressures – all of which add to the window’s cost.

Options. Nearly invisible window screens, varying grille styles, upgraded hardware, and an emerging array of technology options can add to your home’s beauty and enjoyment. And cost. One design option you may have is to join (“mull”) two windows together to make a single double-wide window. This provides the same amount of daylight as having the individual windows but reduces installation costs.

Cedar Hill - #42435

Providing room for a bed headboard, the Cedar Hill’s (#42435) Bedroom Suite 1 splits its windows. With two holes to cut in the wall and two separate windows to trim out, those split windows will be more expensive than the same size windows that have been mulled together as in Bedroom Suite 2.

Brands. Quality… research and development… service…  warranty… style… options… years in business… leading window brands became leading window brands for a reason. Sure, performance ratings as provided on the stickers adhered to new windows are one basis for making your decision. But what is the value of knowing when you have an issue with your home’s windows that it will be taken care of, versus saving a few dollars up front and gambling that a new window brand will be there for you 10 years from now? Resale should be kept in mind as well, as highly regarded window brands are one of the surest ways to communicate yours is a quality home, potentially enhancing both the home’s value and leading to a quicker sale.

Garage Doors. The humble garage door. It goes up and down and keeps your golf clubs from getting stolen. But one of your home’s focal points? If your garage doors face the street, did you realize those doors are probably the single largest architectural element on the front of your home? Everybody’s home doesn’t look alike, yet when you drive down many streets, everybody has essentially the same garage door style – often the raised 32-panel door. Because of their size, and because they are sometimes the closest part of your home to the street, garage doors style should not be overlooked.

Size, insulation, and warranty are reflected in garage door prices. But the material they are made of, style, and brand likely have the most significant impact on price.

Good, better, best? Garage door manufacturer Clopay® offers an online Door Imagination System™ that is a great way to visualize how your home would look with different garage door styles and materials. Using their tool and the rendering of Design Basics’ Kendrick (#8532) home plan, shown at left is the lower-priced Classic™ Steel raised 32-panel insulated door; at right, a stunning wood door from the Reserve® Wood Semi-Custom line; and, balancing cost and aesthetics, in the center, a wood-look insulated door from the company’s Gallery® Steel series. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Steel Garage Door
Wood-look Garage Door
Wood Garage Door

Entry Door Systems. Did you know that stylish entry doors could increase a home’s perceived value by an average of 4.2% or $18,750? That’s what a study by one of the leading door manufacturers, Therma-Tru, found. Akin to garage doors, too often a home’s front entry door was the “default” selection – the good old Colonial 6-panel door, or whatever is the builder’s standard front door.      

Material composition, glass options, and style are large influencers of entry door system prices. Insulated steel doors tend to be the least expensive, followed by increasingly popular fiberglass doors, and at the pricier end of the spectrum, wood doors. For aesthetics and security (we like to see who is at the front door), entry doors will either have glass in the door, sidelites, or both. The presence of sidelites may be limited by the width of your home’s front entry design. For an even brighter entryway, there may be a transom window atop the entry door. All of these glass options add to the cost.

It would almost be a crime to install a standard 6-panel entry door if you were building the Kinney Haven (#42461) design. Both your personal style and your home’s exterior style should be reflected in that door! Modern? French Country? Craftsman? Does the door you chose look “right”? As guests arrive, your home’s front door can make a big impression. This can be money well spent; you enjoy the stylish door, and as the Therma-Tru study reported, you may recoup the added investment (or more!) at resale.

Kinney Haven - #42461

(Click on image to enlarge.)

While your home’s exterior design is the primary cost driver, as you have seen, roofing, siding, window, and door choices can affect your new home’s price by tens of thousands of dollars. Most of us have budget restrictions when building a new home, or at least a price we are comfortable with. So, it becomes a balancing act, usually requiring tradeoffs to meet your budget and vision for your new home. Similarly, product choices inside the home have a surprising impact on your new home’s cost, which we look at next time.

For more resources on thoughtful design and products:

Cover Image: Cedar Hill (#42435)

Flexible Living: You Have Options

Flexible Living: You Have Options

“Have it your way,” wasn't just an advertising slogan; it's evident throughout our homes, showing up in our priorities. That’s why you sometimes see layout options highlighted alongside the original design’s presentation floor plan artwork. When the plan was being created, our designers recognized that suggesting a particular modification would appeal to a significant percentage of new home buyers and therefore included that option on the construction drawings.


The Teglia Place (plan #42481) provides a good example. As originally designed, the split three-bedroom plan offers a powder bath, highly prized by people who love to entertain, adjoining the staircase. However, some home buyers would be willing to forego the powder bath in favor of spacious walk-in closets for both secondary bedrooms. As both configurations are shown on the construction drawings, the option is also illustrated with the presentation artwork.


As originally designed, the second floor of the Dillon Park (plan #42477) shows a two-story high front entry and owner’s suite with dual-sink vanity, linen cabinet, toilet area that provides privacy without the claustrophobia of having a door, and 6’-4”’ x 7’-8”’ walk-in closet.

Some homeowners prize “me” space around the sink they use in their bathroom. In the “Alternate Owner’s Bath” rather than one vanity with two sinks, two separate vanities provide counter space for items each person uses. (This also helps when one wants to keep the vanity area clean, but that’s not important to the other.) And to avoid the door into your bathroom swinging against the vanity, a pocket door is suggested instead. A bonus is being able to peer into the mirror and see how you look from behind, as reflected in the other vanity’s mirror.

Dillon Park - #42477 Opt LaundryThat two-story entryway is a “Wow!” feature many buyers like or even expect; however, other buyers look at that space and wonder how much it costs to heat, considering it “wasted space.” For these buyers, instead of the two-story entry, they could opt to add the 6’-4” x 8’-8” “open to below” space to the walk-in closet, plus have a convenient seat for dressing (natural light is great for discerning colors in your wardrobe!).

Still another option in lieu of the two-story high entry is adding an upstairs laundry room. This home plan also has a first-floor owner’s suite and was designed with the laundry room on the main floor. Note: two-story high space is counted only one time when calculating a home’s square footage. Finishing off that space upstairs adds 58 square feet to the home.

Home Offices

People who work from home, whether that’s a full-time home-based business, telecommuting two days a week, or just finishing up a project at home, typically need dedicated space for where they’ll do their work. The Slater (plan #29333) suggests a couple options, starting with the traditional home office at the front. This location is popular for its convenience to the front door when clients and/or colleagues arrive, for its relative privacy, and proximity to a bathroom. Also, a private entrance into the office could be added from the front porch. Depending on your household size and preferences, we’ve also seen Bedroom 2 converted into a second home office or even a conference room.

Notice also there’s a Pocket Office off the owner’s suite. Most people have strong opinions against working from their owner’s bedroom, feeling that area must be set apart, a respite from work life; therefore, the pocket door is essential, closing off this ideal space with its sizable work surface, storage, and natural light.

Just under half of the homes built in America are built on basement foundations. So, the presence (or absence) of stairs going down to a basement can make a significant difference in a home plan. For the one-story Pelham Gables (plan #42446), no basement stairs can mean a much larger office space.

Kitchen Pantries

Even two-story homes are affected when eliminating basement stairs. In the Bassett Terrace (plan #42241), deleting the staircase going down off the kitchen means you can double the size of the kitchen pantry!

Garage Spaces

It’s even possible to turn garage space into living space. The Windsor Cottage (plan #42226) includes the option of a first-floor bedroom suite rather than the original design’s tandem third-car garage space.

Pre-configured floor plan options, included on the construction drawings and shown accompanying the standard presentation artwork, help you envision some of the popular ways plans can be tailored to your preferences. Please know that Design Basics also offers individualized Plan Customization, providing you the opportunity to have our design team modify the plan you choose so that it lives exactly how you want!

Join us next time for Changing Households and Lifestages.

Livability at a Glance™ is our proprietary color-coded floor plan system that highlights four different lenses especially important to women: Entertaining, De-stressing, Storing, and Flexible Living. Discover your Lifestyle Profile by taking our Livability at a Glance Quiz.

For more resources on thoughtful design and products:

Your Garage: Vehicles vs. Storage

Your Garage: Vehicles vs. Storage

You probably wouldn’t put your king-size bed in a loft space overlooking the great room. Yet we accept leaving our vehicles parked outside because there’s just no room for them in the garage! Storage has always been a challenge to be addressed in our homes, and even as our homes grew larger, we’ve increasingly come to depend on our garages for storage, particularly as restrictions and prohibitions against backyard sheds became popular. In fact, the 2019 National Association of Home Builders' What Home Buyers Really Want report found 85% of new home buyers are looking for storage in the garage!

Hickory Cottage - #42234_garage storage

At 24 feet in depth, storage opportunities exist along the back of the garage as well as the recess along the side of the Hickory Cottage’s (plan #42235) garage.

Garage size dictates what you can store in your garage. Toyota’s RAV4, the best-selling SUV in America, measures over 15 feet long. Providing a couple feet behind the vehicle for closing the garage door and 3 feet in front for a path into your home means dedicating 20 feet of garage depth for your vehicle(s). So, at Design Basics, we suggest storage possibilities exist when the garage is at least 22 feet deep. Similarly, we consider storage opportunities exist when the (2-car) garage is at least 22-feet wide, allotting room for two vehicles, including space to open those car doors. Still, garage storage possibilities aren’t necessarily limited to length and width, as garages with tall ceilings can provide overhead storage opportunities as well.

Think of sectioning off garage storage in “zones.” Outdoor equipment (lawn mower, snow blower); ladders and tools; sports gear; automotive supplies; and, kids’ outdoor toys and activities are good examples of such zones. To get the most out of your garage storage space, look into shelving and organization systems. There is a tremendous variety of DIY garage storage systems and numerous contractors who specialize in garage storage solutions. But it all starts with a plan that meets your specific needs and wants. Also, if garbage and recycling bins will be stored in the garage, what’s the shortest/easiest path for transferring them out of the garage and to the curb?

Storage accessed from the outside is rapidly gaining popularity. Ever find yourself peering into other people’s garages when those garage doors are left open? That actually reveals a lot about what your neighbors value! If you would rather not have everything stashed in your garage visible to passersby, look for home designs with built-in storage that’s accessed from the outside. That’s especially useful for outdoor items such as mowers, lawn games, camping gear, patio furniture, etc.

A pair of 36-inch wide doors access the 14-foot storage area alongside the kitchen in the Neeson (plan #50011). From lawn mowers and garden tools to winter storage for your patio furniture, storage accessed from the outside frees space in your garage for other items.

Example of outdoor storage (Zinnia plan #42041 - as built by Fox Builders, Ontario, OH).

Coming next week: kitchen storage can be beautiful!

Livability at a Glance™ is our proprietary color-coded floor plan system that highlights four different lenses especially important to women: Entertaining, De-stressing, Storing, and Flexible Living. Discover your Lifestyle Profile by taking our Livability at a Glance Quiz.

For more resources on thoughtful design and products:

Is Your Home Stressing You Out?

Is Your Home Stressing You Out?

Gainsville - #6651 floor plan

When building new, if you’ll have individual garage doors, don’t settle for less than nine-foot wide doors. Note also when the front door is open in this layout, the stairs going up are blocked.

It’s been a long day, and you still don’t know what you’re serving for dinner tonight. You slowly pull into the garage, careful to avoid running one of the side mirrors into the garage door frame (curse those eight-foot wide garage doors!).

Fortunately, your granddaughter’s asleep as you lift the carrier out of its car seat base. Bags in the other hand, you navigate around the shelves, then fumble with your elbow for the light switch in the mudroom. You nearly trip over your grandson’s tennis shoes. And yes, you can actually feel your blood pressure rising.

Deep breath. As the grocery bags begin to cut off circulation to your fingers, you wonder why the kitchen is so far away from the garage. Finally, you set the groceries on the kitchen floor, because there’s no room on top of the island. With a sigh, now you remember the family size cereal boxes don’t fit standing up in the pantry cabinet. Lack of storage…tiny closets…that’s the first thing you would change about this house.

Spencer, your grandson, is loading the dishwasher. “Well, at least we did something right, there,” you think to yourself. Of course, when that dishwasher door is open, you can’t get by. “Just like when the front door is open, resting against the first stair, blocking staircase access.  What were they thinking when they designed this house?” And to the other side of the entryway, the home office – the definition of clutter – and there’s no way to hide it with those glass doors. You wince, just imagining your friends coming over and walking by that room.

Bed-Dresser Conflict

Two feet between the bed and dresser is uncomfortably tight. If possible, look for one bedroom dimension of eleven feet, providing a three-foot pathway.

With Abbie still asleep, you carry her up to the nursery bedroom, turning sideways to squeeze between the bed and the dresser. “If beds are 6 feet long and dressers are 2 feet deep, why would they make these bedrooms so tight?” you wonder. And it’s cold – these secondary bedrooms – “Why can’t all of the rooms be the same temperature?” you ask.

Getting into some comfortable clothes always helps, and you grab your favorite navy-blue sweatpants. But as you’re changing, you realize those are the snug, black sweatpants. A single naked light bulb in your closet – what a joke. And your bathroom isn’t much better. No windows. No natural light. Yes, there are more light bulbs, but they’re all on one switch. Off or on – dark or really bright. Note to self, ask Frank about a dimmer switch.

Door-Stair Conflict

Door swing conflicts – when a walking path is blocked because a door was opened – are stressful.

Time to get dinner thrown together. Back in the kitchen, you’re looking for the salad tongs, and they’re in that one drawer. The one that always sticks when you open it and just doesn’t close right. As you dig through the drawer, the ice cream scoop falls out. Great. A new gouge in those birch wood floors. Why didn’t someone tell us birch was so soft and wouldn’t hold up like some other hardwoods?

You bend over to retrieve the ice cream scoop and notice the cobwebs in the toe-kick area under the cabinets, realizing it must have been a month since the hard floors had a good cleaning. And dusting? “Maybe, if I put that on my to-do list for the weekend…” you think.

Abbie had fun playing with her food and some of it actually got swallowed. Your grandkids bring you such joy, you feel your body releasing some of the stress. After dinner, there are a few chores left. There was just enough room for Spencer to fit the dinner dishes in the dishwasher, while you get the laundry started. You can’t wait for Friday when Frank gets back from that business trip. He’s still struggling with being a single dad.

You turn the big TV on in the great room, but with the dishwasher running, you have to crank up the volume, and Spencer has homework tonight. So, you decide to watch the TV in your bedroom, but same problem. Next to your bedroom, that washer and dryer are too loud to enjoy the TV. It’s great they put the washer and dryer up with the bedrooms, but really – a little laundry closet in a home this size?

Ah-ha! A relaxing, hot shower would be perfect. You turn on the fan because the mirrors fog over from the steam. There it is again – noise. Frank always said that bathroom fan must have come from an army surplus store. And then, just for good measure, the toilet flushes…all by itself.

Laundry Closet

Note the laundry closet’s proximity to the bedrooms – noisier than an enclosed laundry room – may possibly interrupt watching TV, sleeping, etc.

The next morning you wake up early. Finally, it’s quiet. No stress headache, like the one you had when you went to bed. Tablet in hand, you decide to take matters into your own hands and de-stress your home. Poor lighting? Frank can probably replace the bathroom switch with a dimmer, and maybe he could put a motion-sensor switch so lights automatically turn on when coming in from the garage. Another light bulb in your closet would be great, but that would probably mean hiring an electrician. And more windows? That sounds like a serious remodel.

Replacing the bathroom fan would help achieve serenity, and a new, quieter laundry pair and/or a quiet dishwasher would be heavenly. You make a note to talk with the heating contractor when they come out to inspect the furnace about the uneven temperatures. Maybe they can do something to remedy that problem.

You decide you’ll buy a couple deck boxes that could go under the deck, to stash garage items and free up some space in the garage. Saturday morning is going to be set aside for organizing the office. No exceptions. There was that ad you saw for a handyman service, maybe they could fix that kitchen drawer. You consider a little more seriously the kitchen remodel for improved storage and organization, but is the kitchen just too small in the first place?

Lighted Closet Rod

Closets are notoriously dark areas. Lighted hanging rods may be just the answer you’re looking for! Photo courtesy of Task Lighting

You start to create a cleaning schedule and realize it’s doable – you could give up a bit of Facebook time, and Frank and Spencer could take on a little more of the household cleaning. Feeling better already, having a plan for things you can do to de-stress your environment, you also realize there’s no practical solution for some of the design flaws such as the door swings that block traffic; room sizes; the wasted space of that big landing at the top of the stairs; even the skinny door into the main floor powder bath that’s too small for your dad’s walker. Those things just aren’t correctable. If you do buy a brand-new home someday, these things are going to be non-negotiable.

If our homes are our havens, our retreats, our sanctuaries from all that life throws at us, how is it that our homes are actually adding to our stress? Stress’ negative impacts on our health are widely known, yet still we under-appreciate the stresses our homes contribute. When remodeling, or purchasing an existing or brand-new home, looking at the home through the lens of stress will help you see the home in an entirely different light – helping you identify areas that cause or add to your stress, and the ways you could improve on the design of those spaces.

Livability at a Glance™ is our proprietary color-coded floor plan system that highlights four different lenses especially important to women: Entertaining, De-stressing, Storing, and Flexible Living. Discover your Lifestyle Profile by taking our Livability at a Glance Quiz, and then search plans using our Livability at a Glance Plan Search...a better way to search home plans.
Cover photo courtesy: <a href="">People photo created by jcomp -</a>
An Icy Reception

An Icy Reception

Depending on the design of your home and its roof, water run-off can be a major problem for your driveway. Take for instance this home: no gutters on the front side over the garage. Yet two dormers over the garage form a “V”-shaped area directing rainwater off the roof and onto the driveway. No problem until winter. During the day, snow melt from the roof drips onto the drive. At night it would freeze. For most of the winter there will be icy driveways.

Clarinda - #43020 Fox Builders

The Clarinda (#43020) as built by Fox Builders - downspouts on each side of the garage to divert water flow.

Another configuration that could present a hazard as well as concrete damage: a gutter downspout that empties between the garage doors. This directs water off the roof nicely, but again in the winter, creates ice problems on the driveway. And, the year-‘round diversion of water onto that portion of the driveway causes lots of concrete settling problems resulting in a very uneven driveway.

The solution in both instances is to place gutters and downspouts that direct the water to the side yard instead of the driveway. Thus, keeping your driveway from building up with ice in the winter, and maintaining the integrity of the concrete all year.

For more resources on thoughtful design:

Cover Photo: <a href="">Winter photo created by freepik -</a>

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