For Homeowner
What's it Like to Design and Build Your Own House from Scratch?
Feb 19, 2020
A remodeled house showing a living room unit with polished wooden storage and reading area behind a small white glass top coffe table anda  large white sofa adorned with cushions to the left and a modern wood paneled kitchen unit along the right wall.
A remodeled house showing a living room unit with polished wooden storage and reading area behind a small white glass top coffe table anda large white sofa adorned with cushions to the left and a modern wood paneled kitchen unit along the right wall.

Are you thinking about building a home by yourself?

There are many reasons to consider building your own house. You get some peace of mind by handling the process your way. There’s no need to worry about a general contractor (GC) leaving the job half-way. Finally, there’s a financial incentive of not paying for a GC’s overhead and profit.

On the downside, unless you plan well and have professional support before and during construction, you may find your project delayed and over budget. You may also realize that it's easier to deal with one contractor than the dozen trades you'll have to manage without a GC. What’s more, the trades will probably charge you more than they’d charge a GC - that’s just the way it goes on self-managed projects.

That said, several things will help you facilitate the process. With careful budgeting, professional design and construction administration services, and a bit of patience with the trades your project can be a successful, rewarding experience.

Budgeting - what is feasible?

First, you must establish how much you can spend. Research your financing options, and reach a firm number - this will be your budget, and everything you do next will have to fall within its constraints.

Design with your budget in mind

Before you get to the drawing table, consider how your budget will break down. The price of construction materials, labor, and equipment-known as hard costs-typically make up about 75-85% of the total project costs.

The remaining 8-15% are “soft costs”. These include design fees, permitting, inspections, surveying, geotechnical reports, and temporary site services.

Unforeseen conditions can emerge during construction, and it’s wise to set aside another 15% of the hard costs as a contingency budget to cover these unexpected expenditures.

For example, if you have $300,000 available for your project, a reasonable budget breakdown would look something like this:

  • hard costs (75% of total budget): $225,000
  • contingency (15% of hard costs): $33,750
  • soft costs (13.75% of total budget): $41,250
  • Total construction budget: $300,000

Now that you know how much you can spend on construction, as well as the peripheral tasks, you can start designing your home to fit these financial boundaries.

Leave the design to the pros

First, get a licensed architect and engineer to design your house. Leaving this function to professionals will ensure that your home is buildable, code-compliant, economical, functional, and safe. Your design team can also help you evaluate subcontractor quotations and help you pick compliant bidders for the work. Hiring design professionals to help you with administration during construction will help you manage Requests For Information (RFIs), Change Orders, and Substitution Requests. Finally, as you're working without a GC, professional oversight will help you avoid defective work and keep your project on track.

Once the architect has furnished an architectural set of plans and specifications that you’re content with, the engineers can get to work on the civil and structural design. Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) engineers will also need to issue drawings and specifications for their various services.

With the architectural, civil, structural, and MEP drawings ready, you can head to the local building department and figure out which permits and approvals your project requires. These may differ between jurisdictions, but the city or county building officials will point you in the right direction. Keep in mind that as an owner-builder, you will have to understand and abide by any conditions outlined in the permits and approvals; this includes scheduling and attending inspections at several stages of your project. For peace of mind, you may designate your architect or engineer to act as your representative and ask them to obtain the permits and approvals on your behalf.

Understand the sequence of construction activities, and trades required for each task

In a typical construction process, the GC hires subcontractors - specialized tradespeople - to perform their respective scopes of work. Since you will be the general contractor, finding subcontractors for your project will be your responsibility. The task can make you break your project, so be sure to vet all subcontractors thoroughly, and solicit bids from at least 3 candidates before awarding a contract. You can use the contractor selection procedures described here to find qualified, reliable subcontractors for your project.

During construction, resist urges to accelerate the schedule by overlapping activities. An experienced, professional general contractor can gauge the progress of construction activities, and schedule tasks concurrently; as an owner-builder, it may be best to not schedule certain tasks at the same time.

The guide below summarizes the main construction activities for a slab-on-grade foundation home in the order they occur. It also identifies which contractors you’ll need to hire for each scope.

Site preparation

In this first stage of construction, you will need a land clearing contractor to remove trees, shrubs, stumps, and any debris from the site. You will also need to order temporary utilities for the duration of the project and arrange

for a dumpster with a waste removal company.

Next, a surveyor can stake out the site, and the earthworks contractor can commence with site grading and excavation.

Footings and foundations

Once the excavation is complete, a foundation contractor will form and pour the concrete footings and foundation walls. The latter may be poured or built with concrete masonry blocks.

Next, the foundation will be damp proofed. In the process, foundation walls are covered with a bituminous damp proofing material that prevents moisture from finding its way inside the building.

Sub-slab services

Electrical and plumbing contractors will have to route their sub-slab services before the slab-on-grade gets poured. This task involves the placement of pipes and conduits in the future location of the slab.

Concrete slab

With sub-slab services in place, the concrete contractor can begin work on the ground floor and garage slabs. In the process, they lay down insulation, a vapor barrier, set reinforcing steel bars, and finally pour the concrete.

A structural design plan with a stamp of approval.
A structural design plan with a stamp of approval.
Framing

Framing is the next stage of the process. The framing contractor will erect stud walls, floor assemblies, the roof structure, and create rough openings for doors and windows. Then the framer will install sheathing around the exterior walls and the roof. At this point, the contractor will also apply house wrap to the exterior walls.

Siding

Siding is the material covering the exterior walls of a building. Once the home’s frame is constructed, it’s time to install the siding of your choice. Note that not all contractors use the same materials. If you choose brick or stone as your home‘s cladding, you will need a masonry contractor to install it; other types of cladding, however, are typically installed by a siding and roofing contractor.

Roofing

The finished roofing surface will be applied now, and roof penetrations will be flashed. Unless your exterior walls are clad with brick or stone, your roofing contractor will probably be the same as the one who installed the siding.

MEP rough-in

With your home’s outer “skin” complete, it’s time to begin fitting out the interior. Before insulation and drywall can go up on the walls, you will need plumbers, electricians, and HVAC contractors to make rough-ins for their respective utilities. This work may be performed concurrently with roofing and siding.

Insulation

Your home’s exterior walls need to be insulated and coated with a vapor retarder. While some homeowners may be tempted to do this on their own if you want the peace of mind knowing that your home can keep the weather out, call an insulation contractor to perform this task for you.

Drywall

Next, you’ll call the drywall contractor. Their work can take a bit of time, as drywall needs to be hung, taped, finished, sanded, and pointed up (have its imperfections corrected).

Paint & trim

When the drywall contractor finishes their work, the walls will be ready for priming and painting. The painting contractor will perform this scope. Next, you can get a carpenter to install the trim moldings, hang doors and cabinets. Finally, the painting contractor will come back and apply the final coats of paint to the walls, ceilings, and trim.

Finish services

Now you can deliver and install fixtures and appliances. Some may be delivered and installed by the store where you make the purchase, while others should be handled by the mechanical and plumbing contractors. Typically, you’ll need the following appliances:

  • HVAC unit
  • water heater
  • washing and drying machines
  • sinks
  • bathtubs
  • toilets
  • stove and range
  • range hood
  • microwave
  • dishwasher
  • fridge

You may easily install other fixtures, such as light bulbs, on your own.

Flooring

With most of the interior work completed, it’s now safe to lay flooring without getting it scuffed or otherwise damaged by construction activities. You may be tempted to perform this work yourself, but beware - flooring is a complex, labor-intensive task, and unless you’ve done it before it’s best to let a flooring contractor do it for you.

Landscaping

If you planned any landscaping elements, such as raised planters, ponds, or walkways, chances are these would make it onto your site plan, and your earthworks contractor would grade the site accordingly in the first few weeks of construction. Now that equipment and materials will no longer be dragged back and forth over your property, you can get a landscaping contractor to finish these landscape features. The work involves paving the driveway and walkways, planting vegetation, building planters, and installing such items as benches and lights.

Disposal

During construction, you should ensure that all your trades clean up the debris left after they finish their work. Throughout the project, this debris should find its way to the dumpster you rented before construction began. Now is the time to do a final cleanup and call the waste company to remove their dumpster.

Walk-throughs, deficiencies, and payments

You should do a walk-through and address deficiencies with every subcontractor before you pay them and let them leave the site. This is an ongoing task, and you will rely on your Architect of Record to certify payments, based on a Schedule of Values, throughout the project.

Once all deficiencies have been corrected and the final payment is due, you will perform a final walk-through with each subcontractor. If the work is done to the standards stipulated in the contract, you must release the final payment or face a potential mechanic’s lien on your property. Make sure that you understand how payments work before construction starts.

Final inspection

With all outstanding deficiencies rectified, you should schedule a final inspection with the building department. Having passed the inspection, you will receive the Certificate of Occupancy and will be free to occupy your new building.

How Design Everest Can Help

Being an owner-builder is no easy task. If you’ve decided to manage your home’s construction on your own, be sure to surround yourself with a professional, experienced design team. We can help. From design to permitting and construction administration, our team of engineers is here to guide you through this exciting process. Contact us at (877) 704-5727 or info@designeverest.com to discuss your project and receive a quote today.

Sources:
[1] https://designeverest.com/blog/determine-construction-budget-and-financing/
[2] https://designeverest.com/blog/find-the-best-builder/
[3] https://designeverest.com/blog/efficient-architectural-and-structural-designs-can-reduce-your-budget/
[4] https://designeverest.com/support/construction-administration-support/

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