The process of building your own house can be a daunting task. There are so many steps to take into account, and they all have to be done correctly or else you’ll end up with a broken, unusable home.
This article is designed to give you an overview of what it takes to successfully build your own home- starting from the ground up.
Let's get right into it.
Know the difference between a house and a home
This may seem like a very basic definition, but it is one of the most important realizations you can make when deciding to build your own home. A house is just that- something designed to hold things – there are many structures that can be considered just “houses”.
But to call something home, it has to be so much more than just 4 walls and a roof; there has to be warmth and love inside (or at least some sort of presence). All around the world, houses without ‘homely’ qualities do not have the same feeling as homes.
The floor plan
Before starting to build the actual structure itself (in other words- before digging into the ground), make a rough floor plan for what kind of rooms you want.
This is particularly important when building a new home as opposed to renovating an existing one; you will want to make sure that there is enough room for everything and that the layout is efficient. Use graph paper, or even a computer program like Autodesk Home Designer (available online), to figure out how different rooms are connected and what size they need to be.
Remember that you’ll need extra space for hallways, closets, staircases, etc. – this is where your floor plan software shines- it can automatically calculate all of this for you.
Getting quotes from builders/general contractors
Cost management is extremely important during the building process; not only do prices tend to increase the longer it takes to finish a project (especially when trying to stick with one particular builder), but you also don’t want to have too little money when it all comes down to the final touches.
You don’t want to find yourself not being able to afford things like a new kitchen or certain fixtures. Many times this is avoidable by finding a good builder right from the beginning rather than trying to save time by doing everything yourself, then finding out that you are nearing bankruptcy.
Get permits from your city or town
Before you can even think about getting your hands dirty with tools and nails, you’ll have to consider some other things. While building a house is well within the rights of every citizen if they own the land it will be built on (or if they are hired by someone who owns the land), you should always check with your local government before starting so that you won’t needlessly get into trouble.
If everything seems to check out fine, then it’s time for you to be as specific as possible when planning how big of a house you want and what purpose(s) it will serve. A general idea like wanting 2 stories, 4 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms might seem good at first glance but it doesn’t give your builder a good idea of what you want.
Designing your home
1. Functionality in your design
You’ll want to make sure that your home is functional when you start moving in. This means planning where different rooms will be and how they’ll be used.
For example, a bathroom might look very nice with a lot of fancy decorations on the walls, but it won't be very useful if you can't reach any of the fixtures because they’re put too high up on the wall.
You'll also need to consider things like traffic flow within the house- for example, you don’t want people having to walk through bedrooms to get into other parts of the house or vice versa. Speaking of bedrooms, understanding how functionality will also affect how you decorate your bedroom is also important.
2. Aesthetics in your design
You’ll also have to look at how your home will look when it is finished. It’s usually best to plan on adding things like landscaping later rather than trying to build the foundations for a pool in the backyard if you’ll be living there. Read more about building code foundation requirements.
It might seem like the most boring part of planning your house, but these processes are probably some of the most important parts. They can make or break a house, depending on what you do, so it pays off to pay careful attention here. For example, making sure you buy good quality electrical wire means that none of it will break down and burn out for years (which would leave you with having no lights in your house one day when you need them the most).
3. Accessibility considerations in your design
You’ll also want to consider things like noise reduction and trouble spots. Noise is inevitable when you live with other people, but it can be reduced by having thick walls (which often means less space) or installing extra insulation in certain parts of the house.
Trouble spots are those areas that seem convenient at first glance but which end up causing problems later on. For example, hallways are almost always a bad idea because there isn’t much room for furniture and they get very crowded compared to rooms without hallways. Another example is staircases, which seem like an easy way to let people move between floors but require significant amounts of both time and space.
The most important thing about your design plan, though, is that it’s ready to be handed off to a builder. If you plan on doing some of the work yourself, then great. But if you are hiring someone else to do all of the work for you, then they must know exactly what they need to do and how they are supposed to follow your design.
Once you’ve got a floor plan drawn up, it’s time to decide what kind of foundation will be built first. Two of the more popular options are poured concrete and slab-on-grade foundations. Both have their advantages and disadvantages:
1) Poured Concrete Foundations:
These foundations hold up better against humidity changes in the ground (especially if they are below grade) than slabs do; they also make way for basements easier than slabs do.
They take less work to pour since there is no need for forms or rebar, but they can crack over time due to sunlight exposure as well as for settling. They are also more expensive to install because they need a batter board and stakes that must be hammered into the ground.
2) Slab-on-grade Foundations:
These foundations can (and often do) go up faster than poured concrete since there is no need for forms or batter boards; it’s simply a matter of pouring them into place then compacting them with vibrating tools like jackhammers.
They hold up better against things like flooding since water runs off the sides rather than directly onto the floor.
These foundations tend to cost less but still require work on your part to get the air out before they settle, which means more time spent pumping and tamping until you see no more bubbles in the concrete.
Basements considerations when building a house
You’ll notice that a lot of pre-built homes have basements and for good reason. They add extra living space to your house as well as give you storage options.
But there are some things to keep in mind when building one yourself: cost, time, possible flooding problems (if you’re on the bottom of a hill or by a river), and whether or not there will be room for windows.
Remember- if you plan on finishing your basement according to code, it must contain an egress window somewhere on the inside wall of the house which will allow people to escape from their basement in case of a fire or flood.
Also consider this guide on how to get rid of moss – depending on where you live, this might be something that you take preemptive action on, to ensure that you never run into this problem.
Building materials, labor, and cost estimates
Once you’ve got your structure planned out, it’s time to move on to materials. This depends A LOT on where you live and what kind of building regulations are in place for your area, so there isn’t a one size fits all answer here. However, I will say that the type of material is heavily influenced by whether or not you plan on finishing inside yourself or have hired someone else to do it for you.
This is pretty much exactly what it says on the label; it’s wood that has been cut down into 2x4s, 2x6s, or other standard sizes most often used by carpenters when building homes.
If you plan on finishing the inside of your home yourself then I highly recommend getting cedar stock and saving the wood glue for when you need it. (It’s not a bad idea to buy some anyway even if you’re not building yourself.
If you do decide to go with standard lumber, make sure that your 2x4s have no knots on them. This is important because they could be prone to cracking over time as well as absorbing more water than their knot-free counterparts, so only buy new wood and never use construction materials..
Can I get a loan to buy materials for my home?
This may come as a surprise to you, but yes – most likely. You can apply for both conventional and FHA loans even if you plan on doing all of the labor yourself; it will just take slightly longer to get approved since there is an increased risk involved in lending money to people who aren’t paying someone else to do work for them.
The only real difference comes into play when your contractor submits their “soft cost” estimate upfront after which time they have 30 days to resubmit their more complete “hard cost estimate” for each phase of the job (foundation, framing, etc).
If the total amount doesn’t exceed that soft cap then you move onto appraisal which is the same for anyone else getting a loan. If it does exceed that soft cap then you are required by law to get additional private mortgage insurance (PMI) in addition to your regular payments, which could cost around $100/month extra per $100,000 borrowed.
I'm not a builder, can I still build my own home from scratch?
Of course, however the real question is – do you want to?
To be honest, unless you are extremely handy with a toolbox or have a friend who can help you out then it will probably take longer than if you hired someone to build the house for you and it may not turn out exactly how you envisioned it in the first place.
However, there is something very rewarding about building your own home, so that is also something to keep in mind.
Final thoughts on how to build your own house
In conclusion, building your own home can be extremely rewarding if you’re willing and able to put in the hard work. However, building a house is no easy task so make sure that both you understand exactly what they are getting into or better yet – just hire a professional to do it for you based on your designs.