Construction Bargain Strategies
6-6. Plan your self-work. - Electronic Edition
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Self-work is a potential gold mine of savings with a definite downside. All our observations of owner-builders indicate a universal tendency to overestimate the self-work they can do. In fact, the average owner-builder does around four of the trades out of about 20 potential trades on a whole house project, while usually planning to do more.
John N.’s comment on our site about self-work when owner-building: “I should never have started this...” is typical of the unprepared owner-builder. Better to be prepared in the first place. The difficulty comes when provision has to be made at the last moment to replace self-work with subcontracted work. Typically this causes an avoidable cost overrun. You can avoid this overrun by a: choosing self-work you know you can handle, and b: by planning the self-work long before you start. We recommend that people give a specific 50 hours of planning to each trade they will do. This is a big saver of money and effort. Too often people get to the end of the project when they are maybe way overcommitted and beaten down, and they lose it, and say, “I decided to hire that one out.” These are the finish steps which are particularly expensive, and at a point when there is little left in the budget to pay for them. They are budget busters. Don’t let self-work become your Waterloo. Everybody drops one or two planned self-work items, usually costing thousands. On a high-value trade, the loss might be $5,000 or $10,000. Plan your effort. Say you budget 1,000 hours for self-work. What can you do? It took me 800 hours to do electric. Now I think that with planning, I could perform that trade in maybe 250 hours. You could do a spreadsheet of tasks for say, electrical work, and run it by an electrician who owes you a favor or perhaps over a restaurant dinner. You could estimate how many hours it would take you for each step and what the steps are. He could say “That part there used to take me 10 hours, but I built a jig that cut my time in half. I’ve got an old one you could have for $50.” Or, “No way that should take you that long if you have your wire all spooled up first. The spooling only takes a half a day, let me show you how.” Maybe you come away with a time budget of 150 hours (where it takes him 80). You do this on four trades of 250 hours, and you’ve saved 400 hours, enough to add maybe two more trades to your plans. The consulting advice on six trades might be $600; the two extra high-value trades save you maybe $15,000, which makes a net savings of $14,400 because of planning. Money saving strategy: 1. DIY with an overall time budget you can afford, say 1,000 hours 2. Plan your trade by tasks with a written time budget. 3. Balance your inputs over the entire project, not just at the end. 4. Review plan for each trade with an expert for, say, $100 or in exchange for favor. 5. Refine, save time, and add additional trades for further savings. 6. Measure your hours and try to beat plan, or make early adaptations.
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