|Do you want to say anything more about your house style or construction?|
| ||House design was two-story Colonial house reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois home.
|What type of construction?|
|How many finished levels in your most recent owner-built house?|
|How much did you save altogether vs. appraised or street value?|
| ||40% - 45%|
|Who took primary responsibility in your family for the work?|
| ||Husband primary|
|What trades did you do yourself?|
| ||Electrical, tile, painting, and landscaping.|
|How much did you save on the trades you did yourself?|
| ||$10,000 - $30,000|
|How long did your self-work trades take?|
| ||>1,000 hours|
|How many bids did you get for each subcontracted trade, on average?|
|Did you get bids from generals?|
|Have you had it appraised?|
|Was yours a starter, step-up, custom, or dream home?|
|What's the difference in your mind between a starter, step-up, custom, or dream home?|
| ||Not a dream home, because it is not overly customized, so it could be sold without difficulty. A dream home is where you minimize resale considerations and build your fantasy. You're not worried about the cause. One of my pals is in that situation and built a castle-like fortress in a remote area. I thought it would be inconvenient to drive back and forth to his business. Then I found out he had a helipad and an 8-person helicopter...|
|Did you get materials separate from labor on any of the trades?|
| ||50% - 60%|
|What were special features in your house?|
| ||"Secret passage" between youth bedrooms, sports court in garage, high entry and family room ceilings, wood/carpet/tile flooring combinations, dual furnaces/AC, and water heaters, custom maple cabinets, granite and stainless steel kitchen amenities, Ceiling fans most rooms, guest suite with private bath and nice views, music room/parlor, home offices with necessary utilities, pantry space, pre-wired and pre-plumbed for expansions/upgrades, oversized electrical service, whole-house vac and water filter, custom lighting, custom woodwork, nooks and hobby spaces, extra foundation drainage, home theater, multiple phone and cat-5 wiring, whole house audio, oversized vegetable garden.|
|Things or approaches you invented?|
| ||Filled in a gully with free composted manure from a neighboring ranch for a very productive garden. Used available rock to ensure foundation drainage at no cost. Placed blocking behind walls from lumber scraps for drapes, hand rails, door stops, even a bedroom bicycle rack. Pre-wired for unusual things like a natural gas concentrator pump for car fueling in the garage. Put a "shoeshine pad" of tile in master closet to protect carpet. Wired for an air switch in front of kitchen island cabinetry to run disposer.|
|Super bargains you got?|
| ||Free things from helpful subs like boxes of unused bathroom tile, and a window well for creating crawl space access. Some trades were very competitive prices but we had to wait for them to become available. Parts for custom stair railings were closeouts. Got "demo house" discounts on cabinetry and decking with discounts and free upgrades. Beat builders prices on wiring supplies, carpet, wood flooring, and tile. Used a combination of boneyard and "store special" prices for granite countertops. Piggybacked on large contractor lumber pricing. Was able to do double upgrades on lighting fixtures by shopping and getting distributor price matches. Piggybacked on a friends account with unusually low prices for plumbing supplies at supply house, Upgraded as a result.|
|Ways to save money?|
| ||The plumber would have charged me more than twice what I paid when I bought all fixtures separately from him. Designed out things we didn't need like a dedicated dining room to get more utility for less money. Asked subs for their suggestions before and during job. Utilized personal funds before drawing down line of credit. Shopped for fees, interest and terms for the financing. Shopped out of town vendors in some cases, and asked locals if they could price match. If not, we got free delivery from the more distant places. Got interest-free credit from some vendors like carpet and appliances. Ganged up excavator work to reduce number of trips to site. Bought slag instead of pea gravel for concrete underlayment because of nearby steel mill savings.|
|What are the qualifications to be a good O-B?|
| ||Resourceful and organized. Able to communicate. Plan ahead. Attention to details. Presence at job site during construction.|
|Did you have contract problems?|
| ||One or two|
|Did you get liened by anybody?|
|What percentage of O-B's do you think get liened?|
| ||1% - 5%|
|How much time did it take to construct?|
| ||Seven months|
|How many trades were involved on your job?|
| ||10 - 15|
|What time of year did you start?|
|Any reason you chose that time of year to start?|
| ||Off-season for savings and sub availability.|
|What do you consider the rules of good work?|
| ||Good materials, well-joined, clean, thorough with attention to detail and quality. Work that lasts, potentially beyond my lifetime. Work that requires zero subsequent maintenance.|
|What were your most important tools?|
| ||Plans, budget, schedule, features list. Broom and shop vac. telephone, and computer tracking. Extra fasteners saved people runs to the store many times.|
|What anguish or fear of loss did you go through? What was your worst fear during the project?|
| ||It was a new experience, and I was unprepared for the emotional roller coaster it represented. I was afraid that the city would red flag the project when our setbacks turned out to be too small. No one realized that the lot was much smaller than the plat map indicated, due to neighbor encroachment. I often felt alone and demoralized with no real network of other owner-builders for support.|
|What help did you want but couldn't get?|
| ||I often got tired of contractor pressure and intimidation. The idea that they knew everything and I, solitary rookie owner-builder knew nothing. They often argued for what made things easier and cheaper for them, and there was no one defending my interests.
|What do you consider the most desirable features in a custom home?|
| ||I like space and variety of spaces in a custom home. Superior insulation for quiet and comfort. Advanced heating and cooling systems and energy efficient design for low cost operations. Curb appeal, convenience and utility.
|What features in your house save operating costs?|
| ||Large windows for winter solar gain. 2x6 framing for R-19 in walls, R-57 blown-in in attic. Electronic thermostats and dual furnaces and air conditioners. Low-E dual-paned argon-filled vinyl windows. Operable windows at low and high points and in opposing positions for natural ventilation. Zoning through closing areas of the house when not in use. Lighting choices for low light or high light uses. Selective use of compact fluorescent lights. Low-energy appliances and high efficiency heating and cooling. Insulated garage doors and no garage windows. Two-sided natural gas sealed fireplace which can make one or two main rooms toasty in winter. Ceiling fans for room-specific inexpensive cooling. Rotary vents in roof.|
|What features add the most value to your home - rate them.|
Out of ten:
Custom kitchen 9
Deluxe master bath and jetted tub 8
Timeless colonial design 8
High ceilings 8
Upgraded utilities 8
Custom woodwork and stair rail 8
2x6 framing and upgraded insulation 8
Four baths 8
Wood flooring 8
Custom blinds 7
Home theater 7
Large windows/mountain views 7
Walk-in closets 7
Ceiling fans 7
Upgraded plumbing fixtures 7
Ample cabinet space 7
Guest suite 6
Three-tone paint 6
Whole house vac 6
Whole house water filtration 6
In-ground sprinkler system 6
Maintenance-free deck 5
Recessed lighting 5
Beautiful grass 5
Wide entry walk and drive 5
Oversized garage/sports court 5
Neo-angle showers 5
Sunny breakfast nook 5
Two tubs 4
Upgraded vinyl windows 4
Oversized electrical panels 4
Whole house audio 4
Hot/cold water in garage 4
Extra closets and nooks 4
Bedside light controls and dimmers 4
Large contoured planting beds and berms 4
Powder room 4
Recessed exterior house downlighting 4
Available home office or dining room 4
Outdoor lighting and extra spigots 3
Cat-5 and telephone arrays 3
Pre-wire for alarm system 3
Upgraded garage doors and openers 3
Dormer in guest suite 3
25-year architectural shingles 3
Extra outlets and Christmas light circuit 3
No-maintenance vinyl exterior 3
Pre-wiring for upgrades 2
Wireless networking 2
Dual fuel provision for stove and clothes dryer 2
Cable/Satellite hookups 2
Electronic doorbell 2
Upgraded door hardware and doorstops 2
Ice and water shield and drip roof edges 2
Seamless rainguttering 2
|What owner-builder laws exist where you live?|
| ||No restrictions if you are insured and have building permit.|
|Did you get a construction loan without a contractor?|
|Do you have a step-up strategy?|
|What do you do for a living?|
| ||Author and Internet merchant.
|How much combined time did you spend planning?|
| ||400 - 500 hours|
|How many times are you planning to do this?|
|Are you organized?|
| ||Pretty organized|
|What suggestions do you have for O-B's to get organized?|
| ||The main tools of an owner-builder are a written budget, written schedule, and written features or specifications. A computer spreadsheet works very well for the budget and schedule. On the budget, You can list side by side bids on any trade, including line item
details and contact information. The spreadsheet works great because you can do totals and averages and capture lots of detail. The spreadsheet keeps you organized. The same for schedule. For features, any text file works well.|
|Are you a good shopper?|
| ||Super shopper|
|What suggestions do you have on finding good prices?|
| ||Don't think of the first price you see as a best price. Force yourself to get three prices on everything. Know the ballpark price before the fact through telephone interviews of subs and vendors and networking with other owner-builders and knowledgeable local people.|
|Were there any schedule items that took you a lot longer or shorter than you thought they would?|
| ||The DIY items were incredibly long. We were not experienced in the trades we undertook, although we knew something about each of them. Our slowest tradesman was the siding guy, but it didn't hold anything else up. Insulation was unbelievably fast.|
|Did you use a designer, architect, stock plan?|
|What are the three best things you did?|
| ||Elaine had a good eye for a livable design with good curb appeal.|
Our written budget kept us within our means.
Extensive planning allowed us to work in lots of neat features for a bargain price.
|The three worst things that you did?|
| ||Relied on free help from friends that didn't materialize. This caused us to DIY some things that took much longer to learn and perform. Took on too many things in the last stages of construction resulting in a traffic jam of delay and doing the most visible elements of the house with rapidly declining funds. Hiring carpenters by the hour and paying them before completion.
|What is a good way to get discounts on lumber?|
| ||Getting multiple bids is important. I think it is worthwhile to check prices in remote cities. You could buy under the account of someone with a better discount than you can get.|
|What is a good way to get discounts on cabinets?|
| ||Our forums talk about the Kraftmaid cabinet outlet. Many readers have bought Ikea cabinets and assembled them themselves. We got a good deal from a vendor who was new in the business, and the manufacturer sweetened it when we offered to be a demo site for the product.|
|Any problems with the inspector? Items that caused you to fail an inspection?|
| ||We were red flagged early on boundaries causing us grief and delay. If we had met the inspector in advance and reviewed things with him, problems could have been worked out in advance. We did a lot of catch up communications after we broke ground.|
|Where did you get good help and advice?|
| ||I developed a network late in the game. An old friend turned out to be an independent inspector. A relative who was a building technologist looked things over once toward the end. A couple of subs became good friends and turned us on to good deals. Most of the subs offered suggestions for improving the work. Our pre-construction interviews with subs and vendors were a valuable source of ideas.|
|What did you find to be the top five biggest expenses in the budget? How much, and how to cut back?|
We did well on lumber, but might have been more efficient with optimum value engineered framing.
Framing was a bargain.
Cabinets were probably okay for so many of them.
HVAC - we could have bought the components separately from labor, especially now with Internet vendors gaining recognition.
Plumbing - we could have bought more materials separately and bid the job flat price rather than paid hourly.
|Did you find a wide range in the prices you were bid for different things? What are some examples?|
| ||Yes, some of the subs come in high and try to make you think that everybody charges what they are asking. One was the stair rail carpenter. He told me that labor to do our custom rails and balusters would be $2,500 and parts would be estimated at an equal amount. He said that was the standard formula. I bought my own parts at $1,250 and found a guy who was happy to do it for $850. So, $2,100 on an otherwise $5,000 job. |
This was true to some extent in every category. I think it helps to network with other O-B's who will give you a feel for the prices they found.
|How big was your punch list? How much time did it take you to finish it out?|
| ||Over 200 items. Not finished yet, after 9 years. I have it on a spreadsheet and can see my percentage completion, which was under 50% last time I looked.
|Did you get a bad surprise on property taxes?|
| ||Yes - it was more than I expected|
|Were utility costs in the new house a surprise?|
| ||More than I expected|
|They say that a marriage that survives building a house will survive anything. Any comments?|
| ||Not with owner-building. I think its an issue of "control". As a couple, you feel powerless with the big contractor and architect. With owner-building, you feel in control from an early point and settle many things before you ever break ground. If anything, you feel proud of what you have done together and you have increased respect for your hardworking spouse. There are stresses, absolutely, and most of them reflect weaknesses in your preparation.|
|Was there anything you traded for materials or services?|
| ||I needed help with electrical work because the electrical plans got too big for our budget. A retired general contractor agreed to help me, and also offered his signature on loan papers so the bank would have a GC on record. For this I offered to help him on his current project. I showed up and did whatever was needed and learned a lot. He never did get around to helping with the electric.
|Did you have any problems getting your building permit?|
| ||No problems as an owner-builder|
|How did you find good subcontractors? Any suggestions?|
| ||I started calling names off the subcontractor list in the printed Parade of Homes program. We found houses we liked or features we liked and called the responsible subs and interviewed them over the phone. If we had somebody who wanted to talk, we asked for their advice for other subtrades. Also met people at the Home and Garden show at the local expo center. By following them up and their leads we had enough to get a decent sampling of bids. The interviews helped us to see good chemistry, and checking references gave us more confidence about some of them.|
|What was the average price quoted you to build your design? Highest price?|
| ||I think $115 a foot was the average at the time, and we heard up to $150. (We built it for $65/sf.)
|Did you use some type of written agreement when hiring subcontractors?|
| ||Usually, no. They would have a bid form estimating the job, and we would write a few things on it like estimated time to complete, price not to exceed, who was responsible for cleanup, etc., and have both of us initial it. When we had a "winner" whom we trusted, we occasionally did it on a handshake. We were also on-site every day, which helps to remove any surprises and misunderstandings. I think good relationships are the most important assurance.|
|Did you hire anybody from out of town?|
|Did you buy any materials from out of town?|
| ||For two trades|
|Were there features in your home that you implemented for free or cheap because of planning?|
| ||We located a fireplace between the master bedroom and the family room. For a little extra money we got a double-sided fireplace.|
By providing lots of inexpensive prewire, we were able to convert two spaces into offices later at no cost with all the necessary hookups for computing, printing, telephone, and TV.
Our indoor basketball court came by choosing a type of truss at no extra cost over the garage that permitted a high ceiling.
We planned for a wide bridge above the 2-story family room that easily accommodated a quilting frame and makes a neat place to quilt while enjoying mountain views out the big family room windows. By prewiring the space, it also houses a computer game station.
We placed heating vents under the master tub and shower bench that prewarm the tub and shower in the winter.
We grabbed storage spaces under the eaves and stairway and set them up inexpensively with closet systems for useful storage. The crawlspace we spent a little extra on to get an extra foot of height, and then wired for good lighting to make excellent storage.
Instead of a plant shelf above the front door, we chose to avoid dust gathering by enclosing the space which now forms a "secret passage" between youth bedrooms upstairs. When little ones visit, they seem to make a beeline for the secret passage.
By turning the 18-foot family room wall into French doors and large windows, we made the space into a respectable solar collector that saves heating costs in winter.
To fill in a gully on the back of the property, we arranged for the local ranch to dispose of a dozen loads of their composted manure that filled out the land. By allowing for a "garden circuit" in the sprinkler plan, we got a "free" super productive garden space that cuts down on manicured lawn space.
By opting for center-meet closet doors, we got quasi walk-in closets in each youth bedroom.
In the planning phase we made allowance for future upgrades which have since been implemented in part. We prewired and braced for up to a four hundred pound chandelier in the entry. We allowed for either gas or electric fuel for washer/dryer, and kitchen stove. We stubbed in for whole house vac, water filtration, and water softening. Stub-in for gas barbecue on deck. As amenities became available at prices much lower than we encountered during building, we retrofitted most of these at "lower than otherwise" costs.
|Were there aspects of your home that were improved because of your owner-builder involvement?|
| ||When on site, we saw ways to upgrade quality. Subs shared their ideas with us. The excavator suggested we fill in around the foundation with rocks. There were a million around the Riverbottoms property. So we tossed them in the excavation during idle moments, making the foundation well-drained and the lawn base soft and pleasant. |
The framers showed us corners that would be empty voids after sheathing, and suggested we stuff them with insulation.
The siding guys became such good buddies that we shared meals and talked frequently. They had ideas for finishing bathrooms and kitchens. We decided to go with tile in the bathrooms rather than cultured marble for a distinctive look. Then the siding guy offered boxes of unused tile from another project at no charge.
We asked numerous subtrades for their suggestions during preconstruction interviews. Lots of good ideas came from that, and some indications as to trades we should handle ourselves to get more for less. Because all the sophistication we wanted in electrical wiring were costly upgrades, we did it ourselves and overwired the house and provided for future growth in electrical load.
We talked over ways to improve the framing with the crew on site, and they helped us to do extra blocking in the walls and extra fasteners in the flooring to make the house tighter and stronger.
Many times material vendors suggested low-cost upgrades that improve performance. We were able to give consideration to each component in the house and discover better ways to implement them. Once we knew the desirable upgrades we'd like, we kept our antennas up for sales and closeouts. This is how we got granite countertops rather than tile or solid surface.
There were kneewalls in the original design in the sides of the staircase and on the balcony. We noted sightlines through the original framing and realized that mountain views and daylight could be blocked by the walls. We changed the design on the fly and replaced kneewalls with balusters and stair rail for a big improvement.
|Did you incorporate anything in your design to facilitate a hobby?|
| ||The custom kitchen facilitated a cooking and canning hobby. An extra pantry and more cabinets allow for canning and food storage. |
One room, the parlor, doubles as a music room with a piano and trumpet and a custom music stand.
The guest suite houses several pieces of exercise equipment and is set up for TV watching with private earphones for individualized watching.
The garage doubles as a sports court for basketball.
We really enjoy beds for flowers and vegetables and a permanent raspberry patch. Custom sprinkler circuits meet the different needs of annual and perennial plantings and rosebeds.
The whole-house audio system supports a listening hobby.
One bedroom has multiple closet spaces that house a big fabric collection and machines for sewing and quilting.
Another bedroom has appropriate space for food and emergency preparedness storage.
Reading spaces are provided in public areas and in bedrooms with direct lighting and seating. Another space on the bridge is a cozy spot for reading.
Work and storage spaces around the house made it work for a home office.
|Did you design anything special for a pet?|
|Were you ever lied to by a contractor? Examples?|
| ||One of my friends has been postponing building because he sees contractors as "congenital liars."|
The first kind of lie I encountered was "You can't build your own house".
"It'll cost you more", "The quality will suffer", "It will take you much longer."
The next was what a thing would cost. They lead you to believe that the only way to do a thing is the expensive way. An example of this was what it would cost to build our deck. The estimates were loaded up with overhead and profit. When I hired people by the hour to build the deck, I was able to upgrade to maintenance-free materials and still come in at less than half the estimate.
Another kind of lie is how long it would take to do a thing, and when they would start. I was amazed that a contractor would say, "I'll be there Tuesday" and you didn't see him for a month. When you did see him, it was, "I'll be there Wednesday," and you didn't see him for another month.
Another kind was that the only way to do a thing or solve a problem was the way that would convenience them, not you. One guy got tired of listening to this from subs, so he checked in advance with the technical director of the trade association. When the sub told him that an inconvenient thing "couldn't be done", he pushed the memory dial on his cell phone, got the technical director on the line, and said, "Here, you want to talk to your trade association?"
Some tradespeople were incapable of telling a lie. Some seemed uncomfortable ever telling the truth.
|What are some of the discouraging comments you have heard from others about acting as your own contractor?|
"Nobody will work for you."
"You couldn't handle it."
"You'll lose money."
"You won't build quality."
"It's high risk."
"It's not legal around here."
"Your neighbors won't appreciate it."
"You'll hurt yourself."
|What is the worst treatment you ever got from a contractor?|
| ||My carpenters who told me they would finish in a week or two and I would save by paying hourly. They were still there after two months when I finally fired them. Then it was a year in dispute after they liened the house. When I finally got the money back out of legal escrow, the title company said, "Most people in this situation never see their money again."|
|Did you have any embarassing moments building?|
| ||I found it embarrassing to trust a scoundrel and be at the job site waiting for them, sometimes for days when they had no intention of showing up. By extension, when I told a sub that we'd be ready for them at a certain date, and they made arrangements to handle it, and I was not ready, I was embarrassed. |
There was one sub I wanted to pay in a timely manner, but the bank wouldn't go out to inspect progress and release funds. This sub deserved to be paid for outstanding performance, and I had to make him and his new crew wait for funds.
|Did you make some mistakes? Examples?|
| ||I probably derived motivation to write The Owner-Builder Book
from my mistakes. There were plenty. Most were avoidable with planning. We planned too thinly, and had to make up for the lack during the construction phase when "time is money" and some things aren't reversible.|
The first biggie was that we had a house design with a three-car garage, and it didn't fit the lot. The city plat map showed we had plenty of room, but we didn't think of running a tape on the land to see what actual measurements were. Since we were the last to move into the neighborhood, others had squeezed our boundaries down by placing their fences and walls generously. This meant a loss of one car bay, and we were still too close to the other guy's fence. The inspector red-flagged us.
I worked out a deal with one neighbor, and snipped off his chain-link fence and rolled it back out of the way. Then we could continue.
I didn't have a sketch of the garage as it would look after we decided to incorporate a sports court into the space. The decision was made on the fly on the suggestion of our bright framer. So when the concrete guys poured the garage stairs, they headed right down into playing space. This could have been avoided by turning the stairs and making a landing.
I didn't have a backup sub for the finish carpenter I chose. He was a friend of the family who was down on his luck. I thought it would give him more to do if I had him install the custom cabinets I bought. He didn't have a clue how to do it, and spun his wheels. Several mistakes were made in configuring the cabinets, necessitating purchase of additional components, and the shop that provided them had no responsibility at all.
I should have used the cabinet vendor as the installer, and had a backup for the carpenter when he turned sour. As it was, he brought in a relative to "help" him, and they "retired" on my job, where I had made the mistake of agreeing to hourly wages.
There were many other small things, adding up to construction delays and extra costs. In the end, we saved so much money on the house, we had to wonder, how much more would we have saved, and how much better would have been our product if we planned more thoroughly in the beginning.
|Did you run into any outrageous construction pricing?|
| ||Yes, when I needed to replace the carpenter on short notice, the guys I found belatedly offered amazing prices. When I finally found a good guy, he was a third of what the carpenters were quoting me.|
The plumber offered me fixtures at prices that were double what I wound up paying for the same items.
Corian countertop, out of a boneyard, and quoted by a friend was $10,000 for materials. We found granite for a third as much.
|Would you be willing to help another owner-builder?|
| ||Yes, I would meet with a nearby O-B|
|Were there little luxuries you were able to implement at little or no cost?|
| ||One luxury that O-B's can ensure is good insulation. We chose 2x6 framing and made sure the insulation job was thorough. The house wrap adds to the "tightness" and low utility bills of the house, and we did it ourselves for $100-$200 in an afternoon.|
We put bedside controls for fans and reading lights in the bedrooms. Also a heat lamp over the tub in the master bath. Courtesy lights on the stairs, sound insulation between certain rooms. Though a trade deal with a neighbor we had 8" of topsoil hauled in over our entire yard. We can shove a garden fork or shovel into the ground at any point, and it sinks in smoothly, a rare luxury in a stony riverbottom area.
Strategically placed windows give us delightful views. We managed a pantry under the stairs, and little closets under the eaves. A good deal on closet systems has made those spaces well-equipped and handy. In two of them it's nothing more than "low hang" bars for shirts and sweaters. We made sure that all the closets had lights with switches outside the door.
One thing I like is the solid feel of all our handrails and towel bars. We screwed scrap lumber into numerous locations in the walls to allow solid placement of railings, drape rods, and even a bicycle rack.
By prewiring, we set up a nifty home theater we enjoy every day. There is a 4-inch pipe that extends from crawl space to attic that provides for electrical changes easily. The whole house vac and water softener were simple things to set up for that represent nice luxuries.
It's a guy thing, but I like having lots of outlets and good lighting in the garage. With insulated doors, it's comfortable in there much of the time. It's handy to have a hot and cold water spigot in there.
We use our downdraft range most every day. That was made possible by venting to the backyard that the HVAC sub threw in at no cost.
I just like the quiet, the views, the abundant power outlets and phone, TV, and computer access points everywhere. The house works, and most of our "human needs" have been provided for nicely. When we run into something that's inconvenient for ourselves or our guests, we make a note to provide for that need or luxury in the next house.
|What were the biggest construction bargains you found, and how did you find them?|
| ||Once I got used to the idea of buying materials separate from labor, all kinds of bargains presented themselves. The lumber for our house was a big ticket, so we worked hard to find cost reductions. We figured out a way to buy for thousands less than the price our construction advisor was paying, even though he had built hundreds of houses.|
Another example is the plumbing fixtures. Our plumber tried to insist on providing them, but when he presented his estimate, we simply didn't have the money allocated to pay the price. Working on our own we got the price down to half.
Our countertops were a big bargain once we separated them from the cabinet purchase and went after them cafeteria-style. We gradually got the price way down and the quality way up, upgrading to slab granite.
The big picture is the biggest bargain of all. By getting all the middlemen out of the equation, we saved 45% of the original estimate of a general contractor. The amount saved was staggering to us. The fact that all the gains are tax-exempt makes it even more powerful.
|What was your most valuable planning/preparation activity?|
| ||Of course budgeting in writing is a huge help that clarifies everything. But to do it, we needed to develop a clear picture of what the features would be for the house. So our written feature list was a big help. We also had to have a feel for local prices that were applicable to our actual time of building. This came from pre-construction phone interviews with subs and vendors. The rough ballpark numbers they gave us proved to be very accurate. Even though many numbers changed significantly, the "errors" tended to cancel each other out and the bottom line was close from well before we had house plans.|
|Beside yourself, who in your family got involved in this project?|
| ||My wife and I were in it each day. My brother-in-law is in the business and gave advice occasionally. Another brother-in-law majored in construction technology and did one walk-through. But for the most part, everyone was busy with their lives and the only ones we could count on were ourselves and our hired subs.|
|How did you find other owner-builders to network with?|
| ||A couple other people had houses under construction in the neighborhood before we started and we met them on admiring walkthroughs of their homes. They were very willing to answer questions and several times bailed us our of jams with loaner tools or some friendly hands-on help.
|Do you know of people wasting a lot of money when they built? Explain.|
| ||One neighbor comes to mind. He kept changing his mind. They built and unbuilt and rebuilt his kitchen fireplace feature three times, for example. He wound up more than $100,000 over budget and took maybe an extra year to finish.|
|Were there disappointments with your project that could have been avoided? How?|
| ||Delays were so frustrating. I felt that they could have been avoided by having reliable people lined up with backups for every trade before breaking ground. Looking for people in midstream is very iffy. Especially when you are trying to keep to a budget.|
|Were there things that came out right because you were involved that might have been messed up if you had used a general contractor?|
| ||All the extras seem to fit this category. We might not have had them. For instance, we have a tub that can fill in just a couple of minutes. We asked for double supply lines to that tub when we were working with the plumber. We have a neighbor who won't use their tub because it takes "so long" to fill.|
Working closely with subs produced many ideas for improvement. Our framing guy changed the fascia boards in the front of the house to make them more imposing. Very inexpensive and very nice. We kept up a daily conversation with all the subs. Our floorboards are glued and nailed, because we paid attention to details with the framer.
Being on site, we made sure the lot was cleaned up, and later added topsoil. Many construction jobs have garbage buried in the yard. Doing some trades ourselves brought upgrades in important aspects of finish and electrical. Vendors suggested things, and had upgrade items that were discounted. For instance, we got a high-end disposal for the kitchen sink that way.
When you are on site as the contractor, salesmen find you and offer you deals while you are building. They are invariably knowledgeable and are happy to talk to you and make suggestions for improvement.
|How did you mark your lot for the excavator who dug your foundation?|
| ||I used my construction advisor on this one. He set up a transit and sighted all the lines, and we traced the lines of the foundation on the ground. He then brought out a bag of lime and an old can, and we sprinkled lime from the can along the lines to make a white outline.|
|Who built or installed your mailbox?|
| ||One of the many things is that there was no one to do it but me. I made sure I got an oversized green mailbox, and that it was placed in accordance with the postal regulation. Having vinyl trim, deck and porch, I had a 4x4 vinyl sleeve that slid over the upright post. The effect was one matched our shutters and trim, and was pretty sturdy.|
|Are there planning steps that you would suggest that might not be in The Owner-Builder Book?|
| ||Use the Forums and user tools at the website. You get some very smart people who are very helpful to comment on your plans. Every day I see someone at the site say, "Thanks very much, I never thought of that!"|
|Are there interview questions for subs that you would suggest that might not be in The Owner-Builder Book?|
| ||Ask if the person doing the bidding will be doing the work themselves, and how large the crew will be that shows up.|
|Did you have a good mentor who helped you accomplish this? Describe.|
| ||Elaine was my mentor who had followed others building their homes in the area over time. She had collected ideas for building, as a hobby, for many years. She took classes and read books and was unafraid to plunge into any task or use any tool.|
|Do you know examples of people being injured trying to do their own work? Tell what happened.|
| ||That would be me. I seem to find the way to use any tool that the tool designers didn't anticipate. I have a healthy respect, if not dread for the use of power tools. My framer told me about an electrician who was working overhead with the big drill, and his long hair flew up and caught on the drill and wound around the shaft. It ripped his hair out in a split second. You have to be so careful.|
|What were major causes of delays that occurred in your construction?|
| ||Most, not all, had to do with trying to do work for which I was unprepared. I relied on some favors from others who were to show me how to do work or help me do it. When they never showed up, the work seemed intimidating and nigh impossible on my own. Then I had to start at square one and learn things step by step. That took time and energy, and both became scarce.|
There were subs who took so much longer to do work than they said. Since they were "bargain priced" or the sub whose work I liked the most, I had to accept it.
|What was the average monthly cost of maintenance in the home you left to occupy your new home?|
| ||Less than $100|
|What was the age of your previous home?|
| ||5 - 10 yrs.|
|How many trips to the hardware store or other suppliers did you have to make during your project? What could have cut that down?|
| ||Over 100. Detailed material lists would help very much so that you anticipate, and when you are at the vendor, you can get some of those little things that you overlooked.|
|How much more activity was there at end of project than in the middle?|
|How many dead days did you have where nobody did anything?|
| ||More than 50 week days|
|How many days when only a single sub was on site?|
| ||35 - 40 days|
|What self-work that you did would you hire out next time?|
| ||Painting. It's a lot of prep work in a custom home, and the spraying of the high gloss trim takes more skill than I realized.|
|What are some examples of day to day problems you had to solve?|
| ||I had to come up with the temporary power pole, which I didn't expect. Getting the right materials to the site when needed. Replacing someone who wasn't cutting it, tracking down somebody who was "supposed" to be there. Compacting fill under concrete areas fell to me.|
|Did you do any creative problem solving?|
| ||We were probably reinventing the wheel, because it was all new to us. We put up a message board so that subs who stopped by and we missed would let us know what they needed. Now a quick call on the cell phone would accomplish the same thing. We erected temporary closures for window and door openings when people had to work before doors and windows arrived in the winter. We got the gas fireplace hooked up early and warmed the structure decently with that. Ladders weren't making it to the very high ceiling of the family room, and to the roofline outside, so we paid some rent to the Sheetrockers for their scaffolding and kept it a month or two on site.|
|What design strategies did you use to keep your house up to date?|
| ||All the prewiring for future use such as high-speed wiring to numerous locations from a central point. We provided coax cable and telephone to every room, which could be used for data if needed. We provided paths under the house and to the attic to reach the second floor if modifications were needed later. (They were.)|
The house design: we wanted to avoid what all the model homes looked like, kind of a local cookie cutter design, and selected a colonial design with hopefully timeless appeal. That didn't change the fact that we made the back of our house, where the mountains were, very open with huge windows and high ceilings to enjoy the view and the amenities that affords of a great room, open design, and sense of spaciousness.
|Have you owner-built more than once?|
| ||Only once|
|How much management time did you and your spouse spend during the construction phase?|
| ||500 - 600 hours|
|Suggestions for controlling the job?|
| ||Call subs or visit them on their job sites once a month before their start until the last month, then once a week before their last week, then every day until their scheduled day. Check all materials in when delivered. Be prompt on payments. Inspect constantly and answer sub questions within the day if possible. Have a backup for every sub. Update your budget and schedule spreadsheets at every development. Keep a log of calls and phone numbers. |
|What were the benefits of your time on site?|
| ||The good subs were facilitated. Materials were not wasted. Numerous opportunities for improvement were exploited. The structure was kept very clean. Money was not wasted that could have been otherwise. Additional ways to save were found.|
| ||Do a walkthrough in the morning, check for straightness and plumbness, and other aspects of quality, note problems. Meet subs and give feedback and answer questions. See that materials are in place for the day and make calls for materials needed for next day. Receive deliveries. Ensure cleanliness of site. Resolve any conflicts or needed coordination between trades. Verify upcoming subs. Do a late-day walk through. |
| ||Praise and appreciation go a long way. We wrote letters of appreciation/testimonials for several of them. We planned on doing a plaque with the names of subs, but the contributors got muddled on several trades. We bought lunch a few times and provided canned beverages or pastries regularly.|
|Did you use a computer?|
| ||Yes - extensively|
|Do you have other suggestions or comments for owner-builders?|
| ||Do your homework, it's a great comfort when you build. Don't neglect thorough planning for any self-work you intend. Pre-construction interviews with subs and vendors are valuable. Network with other owner-builders. Have a healthy contingency fund in your budget. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do this.|
|Did you incorporate active solar panels (PV) into your home?|
|Apples to apples, what utility savings did you get in your new house vs. old?|
|If you had a general contractor estimate, how much did you save vs. average estimate?|
|What was your planned schedule when you started out?|
| ||5-6 months|
|Did you have a written schedule for construction?|
|Did you install a water softener?|
| ||I stubbed in for one|
|How many trades did you do yourself?|
|How much would the trades you did yourself have cost in the marketplace?|
| ||$10,000 - $30,000|
|Was your project a new house or a remodel and addition?|
| ||New house|
|Did you read The Owner-Builder Book before you built your house?|
|What's the population of the community where you built?|
|Was your project urban or rural?|
| ||In the city|
|Do you know your credit score?|
|How many houses did you own prior to this one?|
|How much calendar time from when you first did some written planning to groundbreaking?|
| ||Six to 12 months|
|What is the R-value of your walls?|
|How many bedrooms did you include in your owner-built house?|
|How many houses have you built, remodeled or added on to as an owner-builder?|
|Are you a coupon shopper?|
| ||30% - 40% |
|How much personal use do you make of the Internet?|
| ||1-5 hours|
|Did you take pictures of the job when you owner-built?|
| ||Even took video|
|If stick-built, did you use 2x4 or 2x6 framing?|
|How much construction industry experience did you have before you owner-built?|
| ||3-4 |
|What did you choose for wall insulation?|
| ||Fiberglass batts|
|Do you own a truck?|
|How many bathrooms did you include in your owner-built house?|
|How many air conditioning units did you include in your owner-built house?|
| ||Two compressors|
|How much combined time did you take off work when you built?|
| ||Two weeks|
|How many tools do you own?|
| ||$3,000 - $4,000|
|How many covered vehicle spaces did you provide in your owner-built house?|
|Do you have experience using spreadsheets for budgeting or scheduling?|
| ||More than 500 times|
|Did you use any personal friends as subs?|
|How many children lived at home when you owner-built?|
|How many books about contracting or the trades did you read when you owner-built?|
| ||More than eight books|
|Did you use a contracting consultant or an owner-builder program?|
|How many children do you have?|
|If you used a contracting consultant or O-B program, what did it cost?|
| ||Didn't use one|
|What was your original construction budget, not including land?|
| ||$100,000 - $200,000|
|If ever you move from your O-B house, how long will you have lived in it?|
| ||15 - 20 years|
|What were the impact fees for you to build?|
|What did the plans for your project cost?|
| ||$1,000 - $1,500|
|How did your final appraisal compare with your preconstruction appraisal for the lender?|
| ||Final was 20% more|
|What are your favorite shows or cable channels?|
The Food Network
|What were the most helpful websites for your owner-builder project?|
| ||There were none to speak of then.|
|Why did you consider owner-building in the first place?|
| ||Couldn't afford the estimates of custom contractors, wanted to build above my budget to match the neighborhood where we owned land.|
|Were you working when you owner-built?|
| ||Only wife working|
|How many hours did you spend as a couple, counting planning and construction?|
| ||> 1,000 hrs.|
|What was the interest rate on your construction loan?|
|What year did you get your certificate of occupancy?|
|What was the initial interest rate on your mortgage?|