Questions to Ask Before You Design a Custom Home

As you get more and more serious about your custom home design, you should consider the various ways the home design will impact your life. It’s important to cover all of your bases before you jump in. Here are some questions that will inevitably streamline your home design process.

you also need to explore material options that best reflect your lifestyle and your family’s needs

What is my budget for a home design and build?

Everyone has different financial obligations and ways of earning and saving money. For some clients, it’s easier to pay via cash, while for others it makes more sense to use a payment system or credit. It’s important to determine what your budget is, but also what the fee structure of your builder looks like and at what milestones in the project are payments due.

How will the people I share my home with benefit from a home design?

When designing your home, you’re able to consider the needs of all of your family members or housemates. Organize brainstorming sessions with the people who will be sharing your home, so you can make sure you’re all on the same page about what design elements will best meet all of your needs. Those needs will influence your design making decisions, allowing you to create a home that is comfortable for everyone.

What materials and designs are most reflective of my personality and values?

Not only is the aesthetic important to consider when illustrating your home design, but you also need to explore material options that best reflect your lifestyle and your family’s needs. I work with you ever step of the way to pick out materials and designs that best match your budget and vision.

It’s important to thoroughly examine the reasons why a custom-build home is the best choice for you. Most builders and designers have designed protocols to ensure that you are confident and satisfied with your design choices. Having the answers to these questions when you meet with them will help you ensure that you find the right builder for your custom home.

Understanding the Roofing Options for Your Home

Flat versus pitched. That’s an essential roofing decision you need to make when building a home. Your choice of roof should match the style of your home, but quality and longevity are even more important to consider when deciding on a roof.

Once you decide between a flat or pitched roof, there are even more choices. There are several options of each type, and each has its own pros and cons. Here’s an overview of some of the top roofing options:

Flat TPO roof system

TPO (Thermoplastic polyolefin) is a single-ply roofing membrane method that is energy efficient and resists motion, thermal shock, ozone, and algae. As demand increases for heat reflective and energy efficient roofing systems, TPO single ply roofing provides exceptional resistance to ultraviolet, ozone, and chemical exposure. The material is seamed on your roof with a high heat tool that welds it together, so that it creates a single sheath that covers your entire roof.

Tar and Gravel system

Tar and gravel have been used on flat roofs for decades. This type of roof consists of layers of asphalt and fiberglass mats that are fused together using molten asphalt and covered with gravel. Some of the gravel gets embedded in the asphalt, and some remains loose on the roof surface. With regular maintenance, a tar and gravel roof has a life expectancy of about 15 to 20 years in the New Mexico climate. No matter how durable tar and gravel roofs are, leaks can still occur.

If you already have a tar and gravel roof, it’s possible to modify it to a pitched roof. However, structural changes will need to be made, so you need a skilled professional to do the work.

Pitched Tile Roof

There are a lot of Spanish tile roofs in the Southwest, providing years of longevity. There are many styles to choose, from flat to S curved, and everything in between. Most in this market choose an S-curved tile. The materials also range from clay to concrete. Clay tends to be 3-4 times more expensive than concrete with the same look. Slate is a beautiful look as well, but large roofs can make blending the tile very problematic, making your roof look splotchy. The only way to combat this is to lay all of the roof out on the ground, and try and blend before it goes up. This becomes costly in the install, and product itself is very expensive as well.

The key to natural material for your roof is not to put any maintenance items on your roof, like air conditioners or swamp coolers. As your maintenance/repair folks walk around, your tile will be broken, obviously causing issues. Venting is also a main concern, as the architect needs to provide for plenty of ventilation so that heat can readily escape, so your utility bills are not a problem. Dark roofs can create an oven on your roof if not vented extremely well.

Pitched shingle roof

Flat, rectangular shingles are laid in progression, overlapping the joints below. Shingles can be wood, slate, metal, or asphalt. The pitched nature of a shingle roof allows for water runoff, and these roofs are highly durable. One downside is that storms can cause shingles to loosen or fall off, and leaks can occur. This type of roof might need ongoing repair.

Pitched metal roof

Metal roofs are a more cost-effective and long-lasting pitched roof option. A metal roof will resist cracking, shrinking, and erosion. It can withstand extreme weather conditions, including high heat. Residential metal roofs come in many designs to fit within your home’s style. Some manufacturers give a 50-year life span, which is very attractive to some home owners.

At John Mark Custom Homes, we take pride in educating our home builders every step of the way.

Choosing the Right Stucco for Your Home

Stucco is a classic exterior for homes in the Southwest. If you’re planning to build your dream home in true New Mexican style, opt for stucco.

Even though stucco is usually more expensive than vinyl siding as used in other markets, it can provide a wealth of benefits. Stucco homes are more energy efficient. The concrete shell surrounding the home helps keep it cool in the summer, and warm in the winter, and allows the home to breath. It also helps to block out sound from the outside.

Stucco is a great investment for homeowners. It is long lasting and needs minimal maintenance. It can also save you money on your energy bills.



There are many different kinds of stucco these days. Here’s an overview of each one:

  1. Synthetic

Synthetic stucco is gaining in popularity. It looks like traditional stucco, but it’s installed in a single coat, sometimes over a layer of rigid foam insulation sheathing. The base coat is a blend of Portland cement, fibers, and additives. A lath of asphalt-infused paper with furred chicken wire is laid down over a weather resistant barrier. Next, comes the scratch coat, which is a layer of Portland cement, sand, lime, and water applied in a series on horizontal lines scratched into it. Then comes the brown coat. This layer is applied with a long trowel to make sure the cement is applied evenly. During this process, we add fiberglass strips that will allow your stucco to expand and contract without cracks. There is an added cost here, but this step is critical if you don’t want to repair cracks in your home several years later. Many builders do not use this technique, or leave it out and charge you for it anyway. You need to ask your builder to point out this step – it can be seen in areas before the color coat. The final coat is put on with a hawk and trowel and can be installed with a variety of textures. This is the preferred method that we use for longevity.

  1. Traditional

Traditional stucco is a mix of Portland cement, sand, water, and lime that is applied in four coats over an expanded metal mesh layer that’s attached to sheathing. This is the long-standing method for applying stucco that results in a cladding that is between seven-eighths of an inch and one inch thick. This method is the most time and labor intensive, and it is often costlier. The same method for installation used above for synthetic can also be used for traditional. As synthetic has grown in popularity in the southwest, installers have changed their view on excuses not to use synthetic. The main push back for installers is change itself. Either method works fine, and cracks will be mitigated with use of fiberglass mesh.

At John Mark Custom Homes, we take pride in educating our home builders every step of the way. Have further questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Ask Your Builder This Question about Your Home’s Foundation

The pouring of the foundation is the first major milestone of a home-building project. It’s an exciting time, because it’s when you start to see your home take shape. You will begin to see the outline of rooms, and even visualize yourself living there. 

The foundation is an incredibly important part of any home-building project—for obvious reasons. It serves as your home’s major source of support, so it has to be done right. Before any concrete is ever poured, be sure to ask your builder this one question: Will you be using wire mesh? 

These days, most construction projects call for concrete to be poured with wire mesh that’s suspended during the pour. This allows for thinner slabs to be poured and can guard against future cracking, because it provides a structure for the concrete to hold on to and lessens the migration. On its own, concrete doesn’t have much resistance to tension, so adding wire mesh gives it more flexibility and strength. A home’s foundation must be extremely solid, but a little flexibility is essential. 

Before your foundation is laid, be sure to talk to your builder about how the concrete will be laid, and what type of concrete will be used. Too often, contractors cut corners. They might leave mesh on the ground for the inspection, but then roll it up and not actually use it for the pour. I have yet to see a foundation poured in this city that, at minimum, the wire stays on the ground during the pour. This is simply due to lazy workers not lifting the wire as the concrete is being poured, so that it is not suspended in the middle, thus losing any strength that it would have provided.

Another question to ask your new builder – Is your new home pad going to be Over X’d? And has your lot been tested to see how dense the soil is that you are about to put your new home on? A third-party company needs to be hired to drill 2 -4 holes into the earth, and see what’s under there. They will generate a report for you, letting you know exactly what needs to be done to compact the earth that is holding up your home. The dirt then needs to be compacted to those specifications. The company will guarantee your home if you follow those guidelines. They will come out and inspect the dirt contractor’s work every 12” of compaction, and insure the correct amount of water is being processed into the dirt going back into the pad. You cannot compact dirt over 12”. So, any contractor that dumps dirt on a lot as fill, spreads it out to lift the pad’s height, and runs a roller over it, is not compacting the pad. You will have problems, ranging from severe foundation shifting, to stucco cracks, or wall cracking. 

Once you have your pad excavated properly, and you have your new pad completely trenched out, and have the internal plumbing installed in the ground, you need to have those trenches compacted properly. Remember, you cannot compact over 12”. Make sure that those trenches are back filled at 12” depth, and run a compactor over it to compact it again before another 12” of dirt is added. Remember that this needs to be processed dirt – not dry dirt. To reach proper compaction, it must have water added to limit any air pockets. The third party will density test these trenches before they will certify the pad and warranty. You can easily identify when a wet pack, and proper compaction of these trenches, has not occurred, as there will be cracks in your newly poured concrete along the plumbing lines. This cracking will continue as the house settles, and transfer to your floor covering. 

As owner of John Mark Custom Homes, I always stay on-site while the concrete is being poured. I also help hold up the mesh during pouring, to ensure that it stays in the right place throughout the process. We also use a true concrete, without added fillers like fly ash, so that it functions as it should – without large cracks. 

At John Mark Custom Homes, we take pride in educating our home builders every step of the way.


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Tips on Choosing Which Insulation for Your Home

Insulation is one of the most important elements of your home that you’ll probably never actually see. It lives between your walls and ceilings, and can affect many things: ventilation, air sealing, sound, and energy efficiency.  

When you’re building a home, you have so many decisions to make. Before choosing insulation, you need to consider its longevity and quality. There are three main types of insulation that homeowners have to choose from, and each has its own unique features.  

  1. Cellulose 

Cellulose is an eco-friendly approach to insulation. It is made of 80% post-consumer recycled newsprint, and the fiber is chemically treated with nontoxic borate compounds, so that it is resistant to fire, insects, and mold. Overall, cellulose is efficient, nontoxic, and affordable. However, in New Mexico, a national supplier came here several years ago and drove the price down so low they made their competitors unable to compete with cellulose. They were able to do this because they had massive volume breaks nationally, and the local guys did not have that buying power. Once they dominated the market in cellulose, they raised their pricing, and the local companies choose not to go down that road again, causing the cost to be artificially inflated. Although this would be the preferred insulation method overall, it is cost prohibitive for most new construction.  

Even though cellulose insulation is made of paper, it’s considered to be more fire resistant than other types of insulation, because of the chemical treatment and the fact that cellulose fibers are more tightly packed. This also makes it more resistant to air leaks. This type of insulation can be installed by blowing or spraying. Cellulose can be applied wet or dry. Wet is messy, and blown in like papier mache, and then shaved backed to the studs. The extra material that doesn’t stick inside the walls gets put back into the hopper and re-shot in the walls – so there is very little waste.  

  1. Blown-in fiber 

Loose-fill insulation is blown into walls using a power blower. This method of installing insulation works well in renovations when you don’t want to remove all of the sheetrock, because it can easily fit around obstructions such as wiring and pipes. To install blown-in insulation, technicians drill holes in the ceiling and fill in the walls with fiber. It is a tighter pack, and provides a higher R-Value than fiber glass rolls, as it can be manipulated around plumbing.  

When used in new construction, netting is stapled along the studs and blown into the walls starting at the bottom, and is then blown into the wall cavity between the studs and netting. Make sure your contractor is present, to ensure that the cavity is completely filled and tight. It is important to make sure the cavity is tight but not overly blown, as installing the drywall will result in nails and screws popping out of the walls, and the drywall tape migrating, causing visible seams or cracking years later.  

  1. Fiberglass rolls 

Long strips or rolls of fiberglass insulation are another option for homeowners. This type of insulation is perfect for new projects, or extreme renovations where the walls are torn out. Because large pieces of insulation are rolled out and carefully placed in the walls or ceilings, it’s a much neater technique than blown-in insulation, and offers high levels of fire and heat resistance and air tightness.  

Note: How to determine your R-Value in walls and Ceiling  

To determine your R-Value for blown in fiber, multiply the depth of the area (ceiling or wall) by 3.1-3.4. The range is due to how compact the fiber is applied. The walls can be compacted at a 3.4 density, but the ceiling is blown in loose, so a more accurate multiplier would be 3.1. So, a 2×6 stud exterior wall would have an R-value of 3.4×6” – an R-Value of 20.4. Most installers round up and state 21. If your builder says a higher R-value can be achieved, remember that can only happen if the walls (depth) is greater. It is unusual to have a 2×8 exterior wall.  

Another very important consideration is the foam insulation used to seal all penetrations around the windows, doors, walls, and floor before insulation is installed. Inspectors only are looking for windows and exterior doors, so make sure your builder is present to insure the penetrations, such as gas lines, water values, vents, etc., are foamed as well. This not only stops air penetration, but also helps prevent critters from entering your new home.  

Building a new home can be overwhelming, with so many decisions to be made. At John Mark Custom Homes, we take pride in educating our home builders every step of the way.  


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