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New Home Construction Materials

exterior material test panel

New Home Construction Materials | This is an exterior material test panel for a large expensive new home being built across the lake from my home. These panels allow you to really see how your house will look once finished. Copyright 2021 Tim Carter

QUESTION: Help me, Tim! I’m getting ready to build a new home and am terrified about making a wrong decision about the materials on the outside of my home. I’m afraid they’ll not look good with one another.

What can be done to relieve my anxiety? I have the same issue with paint colors too and even flooring. It’s easy for me to become paralyzed with fear as I don’t want to have to do things over two or three times.

I don’t have an endless supply of money. Mary A., Ft. Wayne, IN

Do you suffer from decision paralysis like Mary? You’re in fine company as many people second-guess their decisions when it comes to all sorts of products and finishes in both small remodeling projects as well as the hundreds of decisions that must be made with a new home. Some are so terrified they refuse to build a new home.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help lessen your anxiety and ensure you get it right the first time. Let’s address Mary’s primary concern about how the exterior of her home is going to look.

What are Material Test Panels?

Architects have known how to solve this problem for many decades. I’ll never forget going to downtown Cincinnati for a meeting about twenty years ago. I was driving past the headquarters of the giant international company Procter and Gamble (P&G). There I saw standing out in the middle of this open area a full-scale section of what would become a massive pergola.

The architect had commissioned it to be built to show the decision-makers at P&G exactly what the giant outdoor structure would look like. I wish I would have taken a photograph of it because when you saw the finished project, you can see it on Google Earth in a street-view shot, the massive finished structure matched the sample prototype perfectly.

Any builder can do the same with a sheet of plywood and a few 2x4s. In fact, a new home is being built across the lake from mine right now and either the architect, the builder, or the homeowner requested an exterior test wall panel be built to show how the stone wainscoting will look with the lap siding and the actual roof shingles.

How Should You Orient the Test Panel?

It’s key to put these panels in the same orientation of the primary house wall, say the front of the house if that’s what you’re worried about when visitors come to your home. You want the sunlight to hit the test panel just as it will when your home is complete.

I’ve often suggested this exact same advice when it comes to doing both visual and durability tests for products. I’ve answered hundreds of requests on my Ask Tim page on my AsktheBuilder.com website about this vexing decision conundrum.

Can I Test Kitchen Flooring?

You may want to know how a certain flooring will hold up in your kitchen for example. I suggest you get a thin piece of plywood or cement board and actually create a small test section and lay it down over your current kitchen floor. Walk on it for three months. See how easy it is to maintain. See how you like the color and pattern.

Should You Test Whitewash?

Here’s another interesting example. Years ago, I had to apply traditional time-tested real whitewash to a giant room addition I had built for a very picky customer. The existing house was whitewashed and done in a way where it looked faded with some brick not even covered.

The homeowner wanted the room addition to look as if it had been built with the house. There was no chance for a mistake. We built a small test section of brick wall and tested methods of how to apply the lime whitewash and get the desired look. I wrote about this whitewash, as well as the secret recipe for it, and you can locate it on my website. Don’t think that thinned-down white paint is whitewash. That’s hogwash you’re seeing on those questionable cable-TV shows!

Whitewashing Brick

I took this photo over twenty years AFTER I put on the whitewash. It looks identical to when I applied it. You'd NEVER get paint to last that long. © 2017 Tim Carter

How Can You Test House Paint Colors?

Paint colors are somewhat easier to deal with. When it comes to exterior paint colors, all you need to do is drive around your neighborhood or town and find a house that’s painted in the colors you love. Take lots of great photos of the house from the street and then go to a paint store to get small cans of paint that match what you saw.

house paint color ideas - multiple color samples on siding

House Paint Color Ideas | One of these colors may end up over the entire house. Color selection confounds many. (C) Copyright 2019 Tim Carter

Paint a small section of your home, or create a test panel, and look at it. Don’t make the mistake of viewing it standing four feet back. You need to step back 50 or 70 feet to see it as you would driving by in a car. Be sure to look at the colors at different times of day as the colors can change a bit as the sun color temperature changes.

The small amount of time and money you’ll spend to create these test panels are well worth it. A smart contractor will do this if he suspects a customer may require him to do a job over. If the customer signs her/his name with a big Sharpie marker that the test panel is acceptable and the finished work matches the test panel, then the work stands.

The same is true for you as a homeowner. If you love the test panel and the quality you see, then have the contractor sign it. Don’t get rid of the test panel until the entire job matches it. This isn’t rocket science after all!

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