House Building Systems: Which One is Right for Your Dream Home?

Home Building Systems

Building your own house is a lengthy process that requires careful planning and close attention to detail. It also demands that the right building system for your home is selected in the early stages of the design process. And, for those just starting out in the home design and construction industry, it may be surprising to learn there are options available beyond the traditional wood-frame construction system.

Commonly Used Home Building Systems

While wood-frame construction is the most widely used building system for residential homes in North America for the past several decades, there are more and more options that home builders can choose from that may be more suitable for constructing a dream home. These typically include:

  • OVE/Advanced Framing
  • ICF Blocks
  • Steel Frame
  • Masonry
  • SIPS

The system a homeowner chooses to build their own home with will ultimately determine their home’s foundation, comfort level, and energy-efficient properties. Therefore, it’s critical to select a building system that is compatible with the homeowner’s overall project goals.

Let’s take a closer look at the most commonly used residential building systems employed by North American homeowners and general contractors.

OVE/Advanced Framing

Advance framing, or Optimum Value Framing (OVE) is essentially the same as wood-frame construction but is done in a way that uses fewer building materials. The result is still a wood-frame house, with all the benefits that come with a wood building system, but less waste is produced during the building process.

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF)

Insulated Concrete Forms, or ICF, is a system of formwork for reinforced concrete that connects together similar to popular plastic building blocks systems, such as Lego. ICF blocks are insulated to provide superior thermal insulation and soundproofing. Additionally, they are quick to assemble and can be used in construction in difficult weather conditions.

Steel Frame Construction

Steel frame construction is similar to wood-frame construction except the building material being used is steel bars instead of wooden studs. Modern day applications include high-performing materials resulting in sustainable, efficient, and resilient buildings.

Brick and Mortar

The use of brick and mortar to build a home is not as popular as it once was. However, those who do choose this house building system in the 21st-century will likely end up with a home that can withstand the test of time. Additionally, minimal maintenance to the home’s exterior or foundation will be needed for at least the first decade.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

The use of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) for building a home is growing in popularity due the environmentally friendly appeal associated with this building system. SIPs panels are a sandwich of building materials with a core foam in the middle between two structural facings, such as oriented strand board.

How to Choose the Right Home Building System

Determining which building system to choose for a new residential home should be based on the following criteria:

  • Cost to Build
  • Location
  • Maintenance
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Availability of Materials and Trades

Cost to Build

The total cost to build a home is a significant factor when determining which building system is right for your build project. Before settling on your preferred building method, be sure to have an accurate understanding of the costs associated with that system. Include the resulting insulation requirements for each system and the labour costs associated with the system as well.

While there are few hard and fast rules in the home construction industry – especially where building costs are concerned – typically the least expensive build system to the most expensive one is as follows:

  • Wood frame construction, incorporating OVE/Advanced framing techniques
  • SIPs
  • Steel Frame
  • ICF
  • Brick and Mortar

Home Design Matters

While a home’s design – including floor plan and square footage – is the largest determiner in a home’s final build cost, the system used to bring that home to life largely impacts the cost to build. The bigger your home is, the more it will cost to build. Additionally, how ornate and creative the design is will also raise building costs.

An easy way to keep on top of home building costs is to use the YourBuildCoach planning template, which can be accessed here.

Home Location 

Location is everything in real estate! And, location is not just about harnessing sweeping views or gaining access to great school districts. The ground on which your home is built will largely determine the right build system for your future custom home. While most areas in North America will do well with classic wood-frame construction build, there are a few factors to consider.

  • Climate. 
  • Foundation Terrain/Geo Setting.
  • Surrounding environment.

Maintenance Needs

Every building system has different long-term maintenance needs, and those needs vary depending on a home’s location. For example, a homeowner in Toronto or Miami, may opt for a steel-frame home to avoid potential termite issues, where termites are a problem for wood-frame construction.

Or, a brick house will be largely maintenance-free for decades; however, the cost to build with masonry is high.  Additionally, for a home to be constructed out of brick and mortar, the foundation must be suitable and the area should not be prone to earthquakes.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficient homes are less expensive to operate, but the cost of building them may not be worth it to some. However, choosing a system that is energy efficient may allow a homebuilder to qualify for government grants which can help offset the cost of more costly building systems, such as ICF.

Availability of Materials and Trades

Sourcing materials and tradespeople to build your home isn’t as easy as shopping at a big box store. Market fluctuations – both local and international – impact material cost, labour fees, and labour availability. If your heart is set on a specific building system, you may need to be flexible with your timeline and your budget.

Build Your Own Home the Right Way

When you choose to build your own house, you inevitably embark on a big journey to create a home you and your family will enjoy for a lifetime. And, as you learn the process of homebuilding, be sure to select a building system guaranteed to provide you with comfort, security, and peace of mind.