California Dreaming: Home Building & Remodeling in California

Moving into a new home is always an exciting proposition, full of potential and lending itself to many a flight of fancy. Folks fantasize about what they will do with the new space, how their stuff will look in the living room or how a fresh coat of paint will make the place truly one’s own. All those sorts of visions jump a level when a different sort of opportunity presents itself. For those who dream of either building their own homes or are ready to dive into a full-on remodeling, such images in the mind become something much more. Driven to make these dreams materialize into reality, designing one’s new space becomes a quest worthy of deep commitment and total immersion.


When considering Northern California homes, a whole other dimension comes into home building and remodeling when one considers that old real estate adage: location, location, location! From the fog-kissed hills of San Francisco to the lapping waters of Lake Tahoe, we are talking about some of the most beautiful raw land in the world. Mountain ranges, thick forests, oceanfront and pastoral stretches are all features prospective home builders will encounter here. This ups the ante for planning, as window views often demand extra attention and exterior styles may well end up being influenced by the environment being built upon. This may all seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. With just a few basic guidelines, you can build a dream home — or just remodel that wing of the house to your tastes — while avoiding the concerns many may have at the outset.


Patience and Preparation

Flipping through architectural magazines can make envisioning a dream castle to call your own very easy. Tudor designs might catch your fancy with their stately charm. Modernist takes could appeal to your need for clean lines and orderly angles. Or perhaps you want to go Victorian and really chase after those unique roof and veranda features! Whatever your tastes, be sure you don’t just jump into the building process. First thing’s first: do some research and secure a truly great builder in the area you want to move to. Reviews can attest to reputations and the finished products can speak for themselves. You want to find someone who not only has solid testimonials standing behind them but also works in the type of designs that appeal to you the most.


Once you’ve secured a trusted building partner, it’s time to engage an architect and keep close track of the budget. There are many factors that go into how much your home or redesign will cost. Plumbing considerations come into play as to how many bathrooms you may want to add. Floor types, window sizes and, of course, sheer square footage all factor in and will vary from area to area. Working closely with the builder and architect will ensure that you stick close to your budget without sacrificing any of your “must-haves” while still having some room for “nice-to-have” features.


Beyond securing the folks who will help design your home or remodeling and keep watch over how much you’re spending, there’s another big item to keep in mind and that’s zoning regulations. Building codes will greatly vary from place to place. For example, building on coastal areas means engaging with the California Coastal Commission. Permits can be more tightly regulated than in other NorCal markets, and building on virgin land can add extra hurdles. Building closer to a forest? Be sure to look into any regulations that may require special features to protect local wildlife and protect your home from fires. Those choosing to build on a mountain may also need to deal with geological surveys to make sure foundations can be effectively poured. Because California is protective of its natural beauty, there is always a balance to be struck between building your dream home and adhering to local zoning requirements. Rather than see this as a hurdle, it’s a chance to design a home truly in harmony with its surroundings. There are all sorts of resources that can inform you of what is possible and what may take a few extra steps to accomplish. But in many cases, state programs will incentivize green construction and responsible building even in some of the more pristine parts of the Golden State. Make sure to run your designs by the local agencies before purchasing a plot in order to avoid unnecessary headaches down the road. Often, the builder you engage will be able to navigate all of these regulations, which can change even as you build.


Know Your Environment

Northern California is a big place, and it holds a vast array of climate patterns and terrain. Consider the regular snows one can expect in a winter living in the Sierras. Now think about living in the Central Valley with its massive amounts of sunshine. Urban areas like San Francisco and Sacramento will find builders facing different challenges than people building on a farm in the Napa Valley. It’s important that you not only go into your new neighborhood knowing what to expect but to know how to build for it. Roofs dealing with high winds and regular rains will need different specifications than those facing drier environments. Different HVAC strategies may also come into play depending on the mean temperature in your chosen location.


Another thing about location is square footage costs. If you’re looking to build big, for example, expect places like San Francisco to charge a premium for its very limited real estate. As they say, that’s the cost of living in the city, but if you’d rather balance elbow room with an urban lifestyle, look to places like Fresno and Sacramento where the price per square foot can be as little as one-fifth the cost. Falling somewhere in between are Lake Tahoe communities like Truckee and the Olympic Valley. In the end, one wants to live where one wants to live. But it’s best to go in knowing what the expense will be and plan accordingly.

Looking Forward to the Lifestyle

California has a well-earned reputation for being a laid-back state with a culture that values healthy lifestyles under the blessings of its fantastic weather and landscapes. Whether your favored excursions include mountain skiing or summer swimming — or why not both? — moving here means being ready to engage with all the wonderful activities that invite residents outside. Northern California is no different in this respect. Long hikes in either ancient forests or up to lofty peaks with stunning views are a common weekend activity here. Visits to agricultural centers and the farmers’ markets offering fresh produce are pretty much a way of life. Biking is often more popular than driving, while camping can become a “second home” exercise for many. All of this comes into consideration when building. If you’re going to fully embrace all that Northern California’s wonderful destinations have to offer, you’ll want to be sure to create spaces to accommodate the lifestyle. In rural areas, two-car garages may be key in order to house both regular transportation and vehicles that can trudge through tough roads. Storage for everything from bicycles to tents and hiking boot collections need to be considered for easy access and out-of-the-way seasonal warehousing. Paved driveways may provide uphill traction in mountain homes. While a smaller San Francisco home may mean getting creative with tucking away special closets in unused corners. Whatever the case, designing your custom space in NorCal means being sure it’ll jive with your environment.

Finishing Touches

You’re getting close to the finish line! Now is a good time to think about California’s green construction incentives. Have you chosen what material to build your house with? Using recycled materials is encouraged and rewarded. Construction that promotes efficient energy use and conserves water is another priority in the Golden State. Even air quality is considered, and here’s the good news — California offers rebates when incorporating these factors into your building plan. So not only can you save money on electric and heating bills, but you’ll see some money come back your way after construction. It’s a win-win for all involved!

After getting past the practical matters, it’s important to anticipate one central reality: the final product won’t just be your house but your home! Every little corner will reflect who you are and offer daily comfort. This is where the fun part comes in — filling the last pieces to the design puzzle. Think about lighting fixtures in the ceilings and water fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms. What will your flooring look like in the living room or maybe the bedroom? Outlet placement and quantity will dictate how many appliances and devices you’ll be able to plug into your favorite rooms in the house. Taking these sorts of things into consideration will also help you choose things like carpeting and even what your electrical panel will look like. Now you’ll have a home you can love both inside and out!

More like this...



Owning a property in the Northeast means owning a piece of our country’s historical land.


The Golden State isn’t just about palm-lined avenues and white sand beaches, California is home to some incredible architectural styles.


Paradise Found: Building Your Bahamas Dream Home

View All

We'd love to hear from you...