McMansions: Super-sized Might Equal Overblown. Check the Ingredients.


“Billions and billions” haven’t been served, but they’ve become ubiquitous–brand new, super-sized homes sprouting up in suburban neighborhoods nationwide . They are homes with high-end cabinetry, stainless steel appliances and electrical wiring for all your entertainment needs. We’re talking a minimum 3,000-square-foot home, with four bedrooms and a three-car garage. The assembly-line sensibilities are all there: stone façade for a front, neatly planned landscaping, and some complex rooflines to give it the proper grandeur. It’s the cookie cutter luxury home of our dreams. Or so we’ve been told. It’s that custom home look without the custom home price tag.

These are the McMansions. The name is an homage to McDonald’s — referring to its labor-saving, cost-effective techniques. Built cheaply, in assembly line fashion, and “super sized”, they aim to create an assumption of value. But what defines value in a home? Is it the modern appliances, granite countertops and whirlpool baths? Is it a well-built energy efficient structure? I would say that if you are buying a luxury home, it should be both.
It’s important to remember that homebuilders are in it to make a profit. The floors, cabinets, fixtures and appliances all look high quality, so it’s easy to assume the same for the less visible portions of the home. But chances are they took a short cut — or a value-pack of shortcuts — in the home’s construction in order to increase their gains. The shortcuts could be in the walls, sub-floors and areas that the average homebuyer will not recognize. As always, buyers need to beware and be informed. And they should ask a few key questions to know what they are getting:
What kind of roof is installed?
A new home shouldn’t have a leaky roof and it won’t unless the installation was faulty. But how long will it last? If you’re buying a new home you don’t want to replace the roof in the first 15 years. Did they install a premium roof to coincide with that premium price tag? Here is a good guide to the different types of roofing materials and their respective life expectancies. What’s below the roofing shingles is just as important. What is the underlayment? Is the roof sheathing OSB (oriented strand board) or plywood?
What’s behind the siding?
You want something like Gore-Tex for your walls. Weather protection with breathability. The breathability is what keeps mold away and helps your paint to last longer. What are the siding materials, the house wrap and the sheathing? Are they appropriate for the climate?

Is this home energy efficient?

Home efficiency should be at the forefront of your mind. Energy prices have nowhere to go but up and a bigger home costs more to maintain. Investing in effective insulation and windows and a high-efficiency HVAC (heating and air-conditioning) system is very important in minimizing your home’s operating costs. Learn about energy efficiency and the Energy Star ratings here.

What is the sub-floor?

Do you wonder if that beautiful Brazilian Cherry wood floor will squeak in a few years? A good sub-floor is made of thick (one inch or more) tongue and groove sheets. In standard new home construction, they use just 3/4 inches and nail it down. Using screws to fasten the sub floor is the preferred method but is labor intensive. The happy medium that will keep you loving those floors is nailing it down in conjunction with construction adhesive and a thick floor. Find out what lies below!

Of course, this is all good advice not limited to McMansions — purchasers of an older starter home, an actual custom home, or even a condo can benefit from being informed about a home’s hidden treasures and pitfalls. Building codes and a thorough home inspection will protect you from most of the bad stuff. However, if you end up with the extravagant bills of an energy inefficient home, it’s you who’s in the deep fryer.. Look beyond the fancy packaging and discover true value of the home.


1 comment for “McMansions: Super-sized Might Equal Overblown. Check the Ingredients.

  1. Eva Falkenhagen
    September 3, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Very well written and very informative.

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