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Faye's Forum Posts: 286
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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 11/3/2008


I strongly urge newbies to consider the misc. items that you WILL be purchasing during your build. Every Monday morning I have to go to the hardware store and pick up a long list of items for the weeks' work to be completed. They are small items that will nickel and dime you to death. Hinges, nails, screws, caulk, duct tape, etc., etc. I figured in about 2% of the budget. I was watching an old "Dream Home" last night and am always shocked when they say that it's just expected to go over budget. While it is difficult to get an exact cost, your build should not run over by 10% or more unless you don't take the time to do your homework. I also strongly urge you to plan on buying at least some new furniture and decor items. As you get to the end of your build you will be so excited and want to do some decorating. However - there probably won't be any $$ - unless you budget it.
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By Clint in Cheyenne, WY on 11/4/2008


I completely agree. I was amazed at how much we spent on all the little stuff that I didn't really budget in because I thought it wouldn't add up to much. Boy, was I wrong.
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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 11/4/2008


Hi Faye,

I certainly agree with you concerning the "nickels and dimes." My monthly VISA bills always show a bunch of trips to the orange box, each one costing me $100-$300. It adds up to real money real fast.

I do feel like I have to defend the budget overrunners, though. Certainly, lack of due diligence can be an issue, but it's not the only way that O-B's stray off the budget path. 

1) Material prices change. My first concrete cost something like $70 a yard. For my big slab pours, it had gone up to $125/yd. Shingles were $175 per square when I priced them for my budget. I had to pay $260 when I actually purchased them (and I needed 70 squares!!).

2) Unexpected stuff happens. Some people start their excavation and hit ledge rock or a natural spring. Others get caught up with a bad contractor. Weather delays can cost you money. Costly things can happen that are out of your control. 

3) Maybe most of all, if you don't have the guidance of a GC/architect/ or equivalent, you just don't know everything you're going to need to know.   I've spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours researching this house over the past ten years. That's not to say that I couldn't have done better, only that there was no lack of effort. In the process, I got some things right and some things not so right. For instance, I planned on one week to raise my timber frame. I consulted with a contractor who agreed that was a reasonable estimate. In fact, it took nearly five weeks. That extra labor and crane time was outrageously expensive. I'd also planned on stick-framing the enclosure. But with the weeks spinning by and my timber frame out in the weather, I opted to use SIPs instead. That put the schedule back under control, but slammed my budget.

And then there's all the little stuff you talked about. If you've never built a house, and don't have the advice of someone who has, there are going to be lots of things on your HD shopping list that you never anticipated buying.

If you've created a budget that you've stuck to, my hat's off to you. That is the real bottom line of owner-builder success. But overrunning the budget isn't always just about not doing your homework. Sometimes it can be a combination of bad luck and the fact that we're not experienced builders.


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 11/19/2008


Jon, I think that sometimes the guidance of a "Pro" can cost you $$ - depending on whom you choose! LOL I watch these shows like "Dream House" and am amazed that they are going over budget $50K-$100K and they have GCs and builders working for them. Material costs do go up -- but you should double-check all your numbers just before groundbreaking if your budget was done more than six months previous. I am not saying there won't be overruns, but they shouldn't be tens of thousands of dollars.

I had a few items that went over, but I also had a few items that went under. I based a lot of my materials costs (like insulation) on current pricing, but watched for sales and when it went on sale -- I bought it. That one item alone saved me $1,500. What I see most often is people going crazy buying expensive light fixtures and home-theater systems for their three-year-old's playroom. Most don't seem to stick to their light/plumbing-fixture allowances. They also never seem to stick to their appliance budget. Fixtures and appliances do not go up that much in price -- if researched ahead and no changes are made -- they should be right on the $.

I also think that some subs try and take advantage of the clients lack of knowledge and "milk" the job for more $. I have had a couple try and overcharge me and if I didn't know better -- they would have gotten away with it. I know crane rental is VERY expensive and four extra weeks would be a huge blow to your budget, but I don't see how the framer could be so far off if he is familiar with timber framing? I did a labor-only contract with my framer and he gave me a total price for framing complete. I gave him progress payments and after final inspection -- I gave him final payment. If I made any changes -- he gave me a price and that was an "extra to the contract." This way, if he underestimated the labor costs -- that was his problem. He is the professional framer and he should know how long the job should take.
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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 11/19/2008


Hi Faye,

  I agree with a lot of what you're saying. It is very tempting to splurge on materials, fixtures, and appliances. If you're not keeping an eye on the bottom line, your costs can get away from you. And, as you pointed out, having the advice of a building pro is no guarantee that you'll avoid overruns. 

  I was just trying to point out that some overruns can happen that are out of your control. Two factors I can think of that make that more likely are a) length of construction schedule and b) the house design.

  It sounds like your schedule is pretty short. That's a good thing. But, depending on how much of the work you do yourself, it's not always possible. I've been stubbornly grinding away at this project for several years.

  I haven't seen your floorplans, but the pictures of your house look like a fairly standard ranch design. Again, that's a good thing. Contractors should be able to tell you with great accuracy what their work will cost.

  My house is a long way from a standard design. Everything about it requires extra thought. A plumber can't just glance at my floor plans and give a good estimate. He has to know how he can route pipes around timbers and through concrete slabs (missing the embedded radiant tubing.)  Worst case - they give me a padded bid that covers the unexpected. Best case - we work together in good faith and only determine the total cost when the job is done.

  That's what happened with the timber frame. These guys typically work with frames that are cut from kiln-dried timbers by giant CNC machines.  Those timbers fit together like a glove. If my frame had been that cooperative, it WOULD have gone up in a week. Unfortunately, the timbers were hand-cut by an amateur (me) from wood that was only partially air-dried. All the joints were way too tight. Timbers had twisted and warped as they dried. A few joints (but amazingly few) were completely mis-cut and had to be adjusted in the field. If I hadn't spent every day of those five weeks on site, I'd swear that they were screwing around and wasting my money. But I WAS on site, and I know what a struggle it was each day. It honestly looked like a couple weeks worth of work, but honestly took five.   

  The more design chances you take, the more likely you are to overrun. I choose a very non-standard design, and I'm paying the price for it. I also choose to spend month after month performing tasks myself, instead of hiring them out. For those choices, I can rightly be taken to task. But, I seriously doubt I could have accurately projected these budget numbers when I started down this road 6 years ago. 

  Every house project is unique. Some of them are harder than others to budget accurately.

Jon


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 11/19/2008


Jon, actually, my house is a ranch, but it is 6,000 sf with an indoor swimming pool. I have been working on it for four yrs and am still two months from completion. I purchased 11 acres, built a 1,800 sf house to live in and then started construction on this house without a loan. So I have been doing all this over a 6-yr. period. I finally just took out a loan in October to finish the build. I am glad that I used my savings for most of it -- because it really made me think before splurging on unnecessary luxuries. I did try and design a home that would give me the square footage I wanted and keep building costs down.

Whenever you build a "unique" structure, it is going to cost big money. I had looked into log homes originally and after seeing all the labor to build and maintenance issues, decided it was not for me. I am not talking about those types of homes. Most trades should be able to accurately bid their work on any stick-built home. There are exceptions on some trades, like excavation and wells. Like you said, they can hit rock underground or a well driller may have to dig deeper. My well went 100' deeper than expected. I completely agree that your project would be hard to budget but I think yours is far from the norm and it sounds like you kind of expected to go over or at least were OK with it because you will have a unique home.

You and I are doing a great deal of the work ourselves but I think most O-Bs wouldn't have the time, patience or knowledge to do that. They need to be aware of what to look for on bids and how to make sure the contractor's don't take advantage of their lack of expertise in that field of work. My home has geothermal radiant heat and a great deal of the bids were outrageously expensive, so I ended up doing the work myself. The pool was also very difficult to deal with but that is where the research was important.
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By Lisa in Locust Dale, VA on 2/18/2009


Jon

I noticed in your building saga that you went with SIPs, not by choice, but because of time. I am comparing SIPs to timber and I am curious how you handled your SIP installation and are you satisfied with the result? I am new and looking at building within 90 days. Also, what did you have for any considerations with installing GEOTHERMAL with SIPs? How were the pre-cutouts for your use with SIPs and how did you handle the external walls for electrical? I know they should have openings at 12-18" from bottom, but how are other electrical (counter-high) considerations or fireplace accounted for? Did they have to cut any openings on site? THX AHEAD. I am living in Central VA.

Lisa


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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 2/18/2009


Hi Lisa,

I am generally happy with the SIPs. They make a tight, high-R envelope. 

The crew I hired was a little sketchy. As I said before, I switched over to SIPs pretty late in the game. That's my best piece of advice for anyone else: choose your crew carefully and check references.

Because I decided on SIPs so late, I didn't have time to order them pre-cut.  I'm sure that I spent at least as much $$ in labor hours as I would have paid the factory to pre cut. Pre-cut is the way to go, IMO.

I'm planning on placing electrical outlets in a built-out baseboard. My county doesn't require a certain height. I doubt that your county does either. Most people choose to have them 15"-18", for convenience. But I don't think electrical code requires it.  Switch boxes will have to be cut into the panels. That will be a pain, but I won't have many of them to do.

I think geothermal and SIPs go well together, but opinions vary. People often point out (rightfully so) that the fewer BTUs you need, the less benefit you get from cheaper BTUs (geothermal). But, my house is pretty large (around 4,500 sf). So, it still requires a fair amount of heat (65,000 BTU/hr.) In my climate, at current energy prices, I figure the geo heat pump will pay for itself in about five years. I figured that before the generous new tax credits, which make it even more appealing. You can get 30% of the total cost back, for qualified units. That's huge! 

Hope that was helpful. Best of luck with your project!

Jon


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By Ross in Hillsboro, OR on 3/10/2009


I like this idea of making a LIST of things... UGH, I'm always running out of stuff and having to head back to the big box/hardware store. Relocating my well pump... there were trips for flux, then solder... etc., etc. I know better... Thanks for this post, it will help me to organize for my next phase of work. This weekend... clean up the shop!
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By Lori in Reno, NV on 3/25/2009


I want to suggest a moneysaving tip. When we ran to the store to get THE FORGOTTEN ITEMS - which was daily at the height of the build. I found 10% off coupons on eBay. You can buy Lowe's or Home Depot for about $2 apiece. They saved us a lot of money and can be used on just about anything. Home Depot takes Lowe's coupons and since the discount amount was higher for Lowe's, we generally bought them and used them at HD.

Hope this saves you some money. Lori


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By Barb on 4/3/2009


Ross,

I would recommend that you pick one spot in your building, hang up a note pad, and anytime anyone runs out of something, or realizes they will need something, have them write it down, right then. 

This eliminates forgetting to add items to the list and makes it easy to let others know what you will be needing, and cuts down on the trips for misc. items.

Barb


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