Construction Details Make the Difference

Your home is more than a dwelling. It’s where memories are made, but more than that, it’s where you build your life. Your dream home should be everything you’ve ever imagined…beautiful, comfortable, safe, and built with an eye for detail that ensures your home stands the test of time.

Top-quality construction is what’s going to ensure your home is designed to last forever. What is it that constitutes a quality custom home? It’s all in the details, and attention to construction details is the foundational cornerstone of every quality home.

What Defines Great Construction Details?

When you envision your dream home, what do you see? As a visual person, you piece together an image of what your ideal home looks like, including all the special details that make it beautiful and uniquely yours. What you’re visualizing is the architectural design of your future home.

Architectural design involves a great deal of math and science, but it’s also a very artistic discipline. The most respected modern architects are masters of artful design. The aesthetic appeal of your luxury home is important, but have you ever heard the saying that beauty is more than skin deep?

This is where great construction details come into play.

Architecture is the visualization of the complete project, including what a home looks like from the outside, and all the features that make it functionally and aesthetically unique. Construction details go deeper than the visual of a home’s design.

Construction details really narrow in the focus on the material used in building a home, and the many different components involved. Architects, especially residential architects, typically have a few construction details that they include in their plans, but Shan argues “that is not enough”.  He points out that residential architecture tends to have more complicated angles and roof lines than commercial architecture, and yet the plans tend to be less detailed. “That makes no sense,” he says.

As a design-build firm, Shan’s team designs all of their own construction details, and he insists on construction details everywhere possible.  It is these plan details that provide the construction crew a roadmap to success. With the hundreds of different hands that touch a construction project, construction details in the plans are critical to a favorable outcome on each area of the home.

An excellent example of a critical construction detail is the plan detail for a retaining wall. One might think that a retaining wall is pretty straightforward, but a retaining wall can see significant hydrostatic pressure building up behind it. So it can be at risk of blowing out and causing significant damage if not built properly. The construction details in the plans show the construction crew exactly how the retaining wall needs to be executed. Shan discusses this in more detail in a recent podcast.

Shan also mentions the porousness of the beautiful stone exteriors you see on many of today’s custom designed luxury homes. “We see these facades as impenetrable, but that’s far from reality. Stone is a very porous material, and you need a way for the water to escape so that it doesn’t end up inside your home,” he says. That’s where construction details come into play, like this construction detail below. Notice the plethora of different materials and processes designed to usher moisture away from the structure of the home. This detail is specifically used for a chimney on the roof. Does the chimney really need this much detail? Yes, absolutely. Depending on where the chimney is located, a leak here could allow water to leak into the home behind the wall for years before it is detected.

Taking a further look at the plan detail above, let’s break down the different systems Shan’s team uses as an example.

  • An air gap exists between the stone facade and the ice & water shield.
  • Mortar with a drainage system exists in the air gap.
  • Behind the ice & water shield is a barrier that has been taped a certain way, per the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • A galvanized metal through-wall flashing directs the water through the air gap and out.
  • Weep holes are drilled to allow water to escape and prevent hydrostatic pressure from building up.
  • A continuous steel lintel is installed below that.
  • Below this exists the metal roof and all of its associated materials.
  • The whole stone structure is being held up by a support beam.
  • Notice how each element must overlap, and the detail even helps to explain some of the order of installation for the construction crew.

Benefits of Designing Good Details

Without good construction details homes can have a myriad of issues. For instance, they can leak, get moldy and structural materials begin to rot. How each detail is executed is essential to the overall function and effectiveness of the design. At the end of the day, a house built without an emphasis on these details will suffer. 

It is also interesting to note that a different set of details is required for each home, depending on its architecture. An ICF home, for instance, would not require the same exterior details because the walls are effectively made of concrete. So, many of these details would be obsolete for an ICF home. 

That’s why Shan says that good construction details are critical, like a roadmap to success.   

In that same interview Shan reminisces about how he started. “In the beginning, when we didn’t have our own architects on staff, we built plans brought to us from outside architects.  One of those times, we were framing a home when I learned that the stairway in the plans provided by the architect wasn’t designed to code.”  Now, that might not seem like such a big deal. However, when trying to correct the problem, they learned that there wasn’t enough room in the home to fit a staircase (at least, not one where the dimensions are brought up to code). So, it would never have passed inspection if Shan’s team hadn’t caught it. Even so, it was quite an ordeal, almost a whole house remodel in the middle of new construction, to get a staircase designed that would fit.

When situations like this happen, it becomes the builder’s responsibility to correct the error – often at a significant cost in both time and money. No one wants that. To further escalate the issue, there’s a chance the architect never learns of the flaw, and others continue to encounter the same problem later.

The reason Shan says that he started a design-build company was to be able to design his own construction details so that there could be a continuous learning process between the architects and builders, constantly creating new, better details and improving upon construction procedures in order to perfect the symbiotic relationship between design and build.

Design-BuildVS. Design-Bid-Build

Owner signs ONE contract.

  • Architect and builder are on the same team offering unified recommendations.

  • Changes addressed by design-build entity, not the client.

Owner signs TWO contracts.

  • Owner forced to settle disputes between designer and contractor.

  • Architect and builder may blame each other for cost overruns and other issues.

When the team that envisions and creates the construction details, both design and construction can benefit and learn from each other.

As Shan points out, “our [roof] flashing details have evolved more than any other single construction detail over the years.  When we first started, we used a standard detail accepted by the industry. One Memorial Day Holiday about 20 years ago, I spent the afternoon up on a client’s roof during a torrential rain trying to figure out why they were getting water in the home.  I discovered it was a situation where the leaves in the gutter had built up and caused the gutter system to back up. That’s okay – leaves in the gutter are to be expected. But, when the water began to pool, the waterproofing was insufficient to hold that pool of water on the roof. So it began to filter through the roofing membrane and into the house. After that, we changed our entire way of approaching our roof flashing details. I sat down with both the design and construction teams, and we pulled the detail up on the conference room screen. I explained what was happening, and we all brainstormed until we came up with a system that wouldn’t leak. Now that we’ve been designing our own flashing details for all these years, we know that it’s not enough to use an industry standard. We have to think about the ‘Memorial Day rain’ situation and account for that in our construction details.”

Other examples of important construction details include deck waterproofing and even shower pan waterproofing. “After ensuring water can’t penetrate the roof, the last thing you want is water penetrating the shower pan and entering your home that way,” Shan says.  

Even stairs often need plan details, especially in the case of a modern stair detail like the one installed in a recent Jenkins home, below. There were actually two pages of plan details for just the stairs. Note, too, that there’s a major difference between this plan detail and the standard stair detail in most architectural plans…namely, they’re a lot more detailed. This gives the construction crew a much better chance at installing these stairs correctly for just the right fit and finish.

When a home design is first conceptualized, most clients and architects focus overwhelmingly on the aesthetics. From there, they begin looking at the functionality and livability of a home. At Jenkins, both are considered simultaneously. Shan’s philosophy is that form and function must coexist in a fine balance.

If the process moves further down the design pipeline without consideration for function, i.e., considering the home’s structural integrity and longevity, the land the home is going to sit on, and how to integrate all aspects into one, going back becomes difficult.  The most effective approach to protecting the home’s investment is by considering the construction details, effectively building the home in the minds of the designers as they are designing.

And, the better the expertise and construction experience the designers have, the better their designs will be. And the better the construction quality will be. Design build teams become intimate with how each detail of design and construction perform – both individually and cohesively as integral components. This leads to better solutions, better outcomes, and homes that are truly designed to stand the test of time.

What Really Defines a Quality Home? It’s All in the Details

As long-standing pioneers in the industry, here’s one thing we know for sure. You can have a home with gorgeous architectural design – design that’s functional, aesthetic, and created for your modern lifestyle. You can also have a plan for all the details that will preserve and protect the structural integrity of the home.

But on their own, each of these design components can only be taken so far.

When your designers and builders work together as a team, over time, the approach becomes holistic. This creates substantial value in the home, and it adds layers of protection to the investment.

Our business has evolved over the years as we have learned and improved. At Jenkins Design Build, quality, integrity, and long-standing client satisfaction are our goals. Connect with us to learn more about the Jenkins Design Build process.

"We have been extremely happy with every step of the process of the design and construction of our home with Jenkins."

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