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Stan in Tehachapi, CA

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Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO's Interview Answers

Previous Owner-Builder for Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO at OwnerBuilderBook.com - Build Your Own Home

What type of construction?
 ICF
 
Who took primary responsibility in your family for the work?
 Both equally
 
How many bids did you get for each subcontracted trade, on average?
 Three
 
How many finished levels in your most recent owner-built house?
 Two
 
How much combined time did you spend planning?
 More than 900 hours
 
How much did you save on the trades you did yourself?
 $10,000 - $30,000
 
Are you a good shopper?
 Super shopper
 
House style?
 Contemporary
 
How much did you save altogether vs. appraised or street value?
 25% - 30%
 
How many hours did you spend as a couple, counting planning and construction?
 > 1,000 hrs.
 
Were you working when you owner-built?
 Both working
 
What trades did you do yourself?
 Framing, finish electrical, finish plumbing, tilework, paint, finish flooring, trim, siding, roof.
 
How long did your self-work trades take?
 400 - 500 hours
 
Did you get bids from generals?
 One
 
Have you had it appraised?
 Yes
 
Was yours a starter, step-up, custom, or dream home?
 Custom
 
What's the difference in your mind between a starter, step-up, custom, or dream home?
 
Starter house - First house. Given pricing today, I doubt there are too many starter houses that are new construction.
Step-up - Most new housing on the market. This is what you see in "Parade of Homes" type spec houses. There may be several steps, but these are all step-up houses.
Custom - Architect-designed. You can tell an architect-designed house immediately upon walking in, they simply feel different. This is like a custom suit for the buyer, it would fit anyone else no better than an off-the-rack suit, but for the buyer it is a custom fit.
Dream home - Most of the fancy houses you see on HGTV. These are never meant to be sold in the future, and the market prices would never reflect the workmanship or cost that goes into these. I get several magazines, things like $250K+ theater rooms, etc. seem to go in what I would call a "dream home."
 
Did you get materials separate from labor on any of the trades?
 80% - 90%
 
What were special features in your house?
 ICF construction, all hard surface flooring on main level (bamboo and tile), custom master bath, custom cabinets throughout, five-zone HVAC, composite deck, level five sheetrock finish throughout, fiberglass windows, upgrades throughout.
 
Super bargains you got?
 Scored some great floor tile for master bathroom on closeout for $0.67/sq. ft., mud room for $0.25/sq. ft., kitchen backsplash for $0.50/sq. ft. This tile was all marked down at least 80%.
 
Ways to save money?
 Shop your suppliers relentlessly. Don't be afraid to ask suppliers to lower prices if you find a supplier with a lower price on one item.
If you were to purchase your house, it would be roughly 35-40% labor, 35-40% materials, and 20-30% overhead and profit. OHP is your for the taking, but it takes a significant time investment on your part. If you just take this, you will save considerable money. However, you can also cut into materials pretty heavily. It takes a certain amount of time to build your house, labor is not something there is significant cost savings on.
Please note that labor costs do not equate to installed costs. I hired some union contractors, and I know they were making real wages compared to other workers I could have hired to do the same job. However their productivity was also higher, and in many cases the union subcontractors were the lowest installed price. This is a reflection of productivity and not hourly wage rates.
 
What are the qualifications to be a good O-B?
 Good organization. You hire and subcontract what you don't know. If you don't know anything about residential construction, you hire an independent inspector. This is no different than hiring an excavator, framer, electrician, HVAC tech, plumber, or any other trade. If you can keep it all organized, communication between the trades, you will save money.
Problem-solving skills. When problems happen, most people ask why and who is to blame, and therefore who should pay for it. This takes time and is counterproductive, you should be looking for solutions first. You can sort out who pays for it later, you need a solution today.
For example, what happens when your plumbing supply warehouse (who you were just getting ready to put in your order) burns completely to the ground? They are no longer interested in new orders, in fact will not accept them, which means you need a new supplier, and fast because your plumber is coming next week.
 
Did you have contract problems?
 One
 
Did you get liened by anybody?
 No liens
 
How much time did it take to construct?
 More than ten months
 
How many trades were involved on your job?
 10 - 15
 
What time of year did you start?
 July
 
Any reason you chose that time of year to start?
 July is historically the driest month of the year. When we built, we had one of the wettest Julys on record. We excavated the beginning of July, and didn't get footers poured until August. Wet, wet, wet.
 
What do you consider the rules of good work?
 
1) Consider the trades following your work, and make sure you consider their needs in the service you are providing today.
2) Quality of work. I wanted the trades to do the same quality of work that they would do on their own houses.
3) Don't hide defects behind Sheetrock or other finish materials.
 
What were your most important tools?
 Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. This showed my estimates, material costs incurred to date, estimates of material costs, basically my whole project. This allowed me to know what I needed to buy, when I needed to buy it (allowing me to act quickly when coming across material closeouts for example).
 
What do you consider the most desirable features in a custom home?
 Does it fit your lifestyle?
 
What features in your house save operating costs?
 ICF construction, R-50 insulation in the roof, passive solar, fiber-cement siding, energy efficient HVAC, fiberglass windows and doors, composite deck.
 
What owner-builder laws exist where you live?
 Need to be a GC in order to pull a building permit, otherwise you can do as much work on your house as you wish. Becoming a GC is much easier than you might imagine.
 
Did you get a construction loan without a contractor?
 Yes
 
Do you have a step-up strategy?
 No
 
What do you do for a living?
 Environmental engineer.
 
How many times are you planning to do this?
 Two
 
Are you organized?
 Pretty organized
 
What suggestions do you have for O-B's to get organized?
 It is a headache at first, but this will pay you pack better than any other part of the job.
 
What suggestions do you have on finding good prices?
 Always be looking. You never know when you will come across closeout items. However you need to know what your needs are. Closeout tile at a great price is no good if you don't have someplace to install it. This is where your spreadsheet comes in; you can keep track of what you need to purchase.
Be flexible. We were going to use sheet flooring in our mud room, until we found tile at a great price. Tile was cheaper than vinyl, so we upgraded. The tile was on closeout. Why not upgrade when it saves you money?
Be relentless. Let's use lumber for example. If you do your own quantity takeoffs, you can fax this to every lumberyard in town. Just call them and ask if you fax a material list are they interested in putting prices down. Getting new customers is difficult; having one fall into your lap is a dream for these suppliers. And since your material list is already itemized, all they have to do is go to their computer and fill in prices and fax it back to you. You can get 10 bids in a couple of hours' time. If you are looking to save the last dollar, you can take your lowest bid to Home Depot and ask them to price match minus 10%, and combine this with a 10% off coupon you purchased via the Internet (just type "Home Depot Coupons" into ebay.com), and now you are saving some real money. Personally, I think H-D lumber is junk compared to what a real yard will get you, and I like to keep everyone on equal footing. But if I were trying to save that last dime I would have used H-D more.
Don't limit yourself to local suppliers. The Internet opens up a whole world of supplies that can be shipped. While you wouldn't want to order cable or wiring over the Internet (much easier to get locally for probably equal cost), you can order all of your faucets and finish plumbing, light fixtures, etc. on-line.
 
Were there any schedule items that took you a lot longer or shorter than you thought they would?
 ICF. It took longer to get the shell than it should have, the weather really impacted this part of the project.
Roofing. I did this myself to save money. Next time I pay to get it done. It took me an inordinate amount of time and ultimately didn't save me anything. Nothing on a roof is lightweight, it is heavy labor. You save nothing by doing this yourself. Other trades have higher skill, and therefore make more money and offer better return on time investment for you to undertake.
 
Did you use a designer, architect, stock plan?
 Architect
 
What are the three best things you did?
 
1) O-B myself.
2) Hire an architect - Greg was fantastic.
3) ICF construction. This so much nicer than stick-framed. You don't understand until you walk in one of these. They are so much more substantial. It is like closing the door on a Ford Escort and comparing it to closing the door on a BMW 7-series.
 
The three worst things that you did?
 
1) Tried to do too much work myself. Next time I hire more subcontractors, and focus on what I do best, which is organization, screening subcontractors, shopping, and inspection.
2) I had one subcontractor I didn't check out completely as I was in a hurry. This one caused me problems, and took me more time to fix that it would have taken to check him out.
 
What is a good way to get discounts on lumber?
 Ask and you shall receive. Do your own takeoffs, that way you can fax your lumber needs to every lumber supplier in the yellow pages. And since they are all preparing bids based on the same material list, you can compare apples-to-apples when the bids come back.
I received a 15% discount on lumber just because I prepaid my whole order. I did this right after the first hurricane hit Florida (2004) anticipating a spike in material costs. Three hurricanes later, it appeared to be a good strategy that all my lumber had been paid for, not to mention the additional 15% discount.
If you want to take advantage of the big box, Home Depot has a price match guarantee. Take in your lowest lumber bid (it will be less than Home Depot's price), they will price match minus 10%. Then whip out one of your handy coupons good for 10% off (type Home Depot coupon into www.ebay.com, you should always have a couple in your pocket), and you just reduced your lumber cost by 20%. I don't like Home Depot lumber, and I don't like them using their buying power to sell at a loss to put local suppliers out of business, but if you want to get your lumber at bottom dollar this is the way.
 
What is a good way to get discounts on cabinets?
 A friend of mine recommended custom cabinets. Who would think custom cabinets are cheaper than off-the-shelf stuff from the big box store? Certainly not me. However in my locale, custom cabinets are cheaper than Kraftmaid from Home Depot. When you consider the quality, it is a no-brainer to go with the custom materials.
 
Any problems with the inspector? Items that caused you to fail an inspection?
 We had one problem with our first inspection (footers). The inspector failed us in the afternoon before the pour (pump, several concrete trucks already scheduled) for about 10 minutes worth of rework. The inspector wouldn't stick around, and said he would be back the next morning. The concrete pump shows up early the next morning, still no inspector. The first truck gets there, still no inspector. I call the inspector, he has conveniently "forgot" the inspection since it wasn't on his schedule, finally gets there and is very upset that the first concrete truck left the batch plant before I called for an inspection, I should have to wait 24 hours notice as it applies to every GC calling for an inspection. I have a concrete pump, one concrete truck on-site, and another that has left the batch plant, delay is not an option.
The inspector identifies that since I used an architect, I could get the architect to do all of the inspections for me. I asked if they were willing to pay my architect's time and mileage, of course the answer is no. I then ask if an engineer is sufficient to do inspections (in Missouri, PEs are not delineated by field of expertise). He said yes, I ask him to leave the site as I don't require his services any further, nor do I need his signature on the inspection form. This was the last time we had any problems, he did all of the required inspections.
 
Where did you get good help and advice?
 
1) Other O-B network I set up
2) Trades and subcontractors
3) I forged ahead without guidance, simply asking why?
4) We must have read literally hundreds of books. You can figure out which ones are valuable, and which ones are fluff. When I was starting framing, I purchased a good framing book that was invaluable. Use the library, it is pretty easy to browse over the shelves of construction books and figure out which ones have new information, and which ones are rehashing the same old information. Check out the relevant books only. The really good books, you want to buy. We ended up only purchasing a handful of books (The Owner-Builder Book was the second one we purchased).
5) If you have a question about code requirements on something you are doing, call you code compliance office. They knew me on a first-name basis. They knew my phone number and my fax machine, and were always happy to fax the relevant portion of the code I was looking for.
 
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?
 Less than I expected
 
They say that a marriage that survives building a house will survive anything. Any comments?
 I agree. This will certainly strain a partnership.
 
Did you have any problems getting your building permit?
 No problems as an owner-builder
 
Did you use some type of written agreement when hiring subcontractors?
 Only once. Most subcontractors were hired without formal agreements.
 
Did you hire anybody from out of town?
 One trade from out of town
 
Did you buy any materials from out of town?
 For two trades
 
Were there aspects of your home that were improved because of your owner-builder involvement?
 Quality of construction. Most people rely on code inspectors to ensure construction quality (they wouldn't pass it if it didn't meet code mentality). After working with the code inspectors, their review is cursory at best. You would be surprised how much bad quality is covered up by Sheetrock or siding.
 
Did you incorporate anything in your design to facilitate a hobby?
 I am a homebrewer. I have an extra staircase to get homebrewing materials (ie. 55 lb. bags of grain) directly from the garage into the basement. I also have a brewing area.
 
Did you design anything special for a pet?
 Yes. All hard surface flooring on the main level, easier to clean up if a pet gets sick or training a new puppy. Tile area for their food and water bowls. Dog friendly throughout.
 
What are some of the discouraging comments you have heard from others about acting as your own contractor?
 
1) O-B don't save any money
2) O-B get worse quality
3) O-B just think they save money and get better quality
 
Did you use a computer?
 Yes - extensively
 
Did you make some mistakes? Examples?
 
Yes:
1) Coordination between subcontractors. For example, I thought my plumber and HVAC tech were going to get into it one day because my HVAC tech wanted to put an air return where the plumber wanted to run some tubing. I resolved this easy enough simply by being on-site, but it was clear these two subcontractors had never worked together before.
2) Hiring a low-bid subcontractor without fully checking references, I was in a hurry. Of all of the subcontractors I hired, I took a short-cut on this one. This was the one subcontractor I had problems with, had to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, threatened a mechanic's lien, and generally was the one I wouldn't hire again.
3) When I ordered my roof trusses, they came in the wrong pitch. The problem was the wrong pitch was shown on the plans, a mistake the architect made. The truss designer has a 3-D tool that would have caught this mistake easily prior to ordering, but they don't use it because all of the information necessary was on the paper plans. This cost an extra $3K to put scabs on the trusses to give them more pitch, but would have been easily avoidable.
 
Did you run into any outrageous construction pricing?
 Yes. Some of my high bids were triple or more what I ended up paying, and often this was not selecting the low bid. These contractors must be extremely busy, or not busy at all but want to make just as much money as the busy ones?
 
Were there little luxuries you were able to implement at little or no cost?
 Our footers were poured wrong, leading to a loss of 6" in our entry and a gain of 6" in our master bathroom. We could have re-poured them, but we ended up redesigning the master bathroom and came up with a much better flow and design, incorporating a bigger shower. My footing subcontractor was satisfied as he didn't have to re-pour the footer in this area, everything worked out. I don't notice the 6" we lost in the entry, but the extra 6" in the master bath is really nice.
Another thing we did because we have clear span (no interior walls), when we framed the main floor we didn't use the plans. We just threw down plates, laid it out how we thought, adjusted some. We made the kitchen larger, the mud room smaller, adjusted a couple of closets. Once we had everything about where we wanted it, we squared it all up and put up the interior walls. Most of the adjustments were relatively minor, but it was nice to have the flexibility prior to building walls.
In the kitchen, we built the wall behind the refrigerator with a little cubby, so the refrigerator front is flush to the cabinets (most modern refrigerators sit out from the cabinets). No one will mistake this for a Sub-Zero built-in, but it is a nice touch that I have never seen incorporated into any houses in this area. Additional cost is basically zero.
There are a lot of little things that can be done that don't add cost to the house. Some things to consider include switched outlets in the soffits if you like to have Christmas lights, putting conduit under driveways and patios to accomodate future outside lighting and power or sprinkler systems. Write down everything about your existing house that provides a sense of frustration for a period of six months, no matter how trivial, and you can incorporate solutions to most of these in your new construction job, most for almost no additional cost.
 
What were the biggest construction bargains you found, and how did you find them?
 Always be on the lookout for bargains, wherever you are. Even during your leisure time, be looking for suppliers and subcontractors. For example, we met some friends for happy hour and it turned out one of their other friends who we had never met worked for a plumbing supplier - bingo we just got a supplier and qualified for "friends" pricing (actually the best material bid out there). We would have never asked if we weren't building. We also go to one particular bar because we like the bartender, we told him we were building and asked if he had any subcontractors or suppliers that also come in to the bar - bingo more contacts.
 
What was your most valuable planning/preparation activity?
 When we got our preliminary plans from the architect, we shared them with subcontractors we knew (none of which ended up working on the house). The idea was what should change to make the house go together easier for the trades. We took this back to the architect, he was very impressed with the amount of time, energy, thought, and input we got. Ultimately if the house is easier to build, the trades should reflect this in their prices. However we found may trades bid by square footage or number of fixtures, and don't take the time to prepare detailed bids. However, they all appreciated the ease of construction, and I like to think this was reflected in their quality of work.
 
Beside yourself, who in your family got involved in this project?
 
1) Spouse was critical.
2) My brother-in-law helped clear the lot and loaned some tools. I was counting on more help from him, but help from relatives is bonus and not something you should plan on.
3) My brother is an electrician and got me started on the wiring. He also helped me troubleshoot over the phone when hooking up three-way and four-way switches, and basically any other electrical questions I had. Although he was out-of-state, if I had any questions relating to construction, I could call him and he would refer me to a subcontractor in his area (local to him) he worked with to answer my questions.
 
How did you find other owner-builders to network with?
 
1) I used O-B connections. I got some contacts, but mostly these were people that were planning to O-B and eventually decided not too.
2) I used my architect. He had done some plans for O-B, and referred me to them. One of my best contacts came from this source.
3) I used to work with someone who had O-B when we worked together, and had just finished O-B his second house when we were in the planning stages. I had another person I used to work with that had O-B several years prior. These two people were willing to consult on anything I needed whenever I called.
4) My HVAC tech was O-B his own house at the same time I was working on mine.
5) One of my potential ICF suppliers (who I didn't end up using) dealt with a lot of O-B. These references were critical in allowing me to learn ICF construction and ultimately my decision to use ICF.
 
What websites did you find helpful when you built?
 
1) www.ownerbuilderbook.com/forums
2) bahrr.proboards.com
3) www.johnbridge.com (tile forums)
4) www.hvac-talk.com (more than you will ever need to know about all subjects HVAC)
5) www.sessaconstruction.net (a plug for my own site)
6) www.kerryteri.com (of all the O-B sites, most were not terribly useful and not maintained beyond the footers. Kerry Teri [I have no idea who he is] built an ICF house in Montana, his site is wonderful)
7) www.icfweb.com (a lot of professional on the forum)
 
Do you know of people wasting a lot of money when they built? Explain.
 Rework. Due to extensive planning, we had almost no rework or change orders. Change orders will eat your lunch, planning eliminates these and makes the whole process smoother.
 
Were there things that came out right because you were involved that might have been messed up if you had used a general contractor?
 No rework or change orders. We changed many things as we were building, but none of this resulted in having to tear out work completed.
1) We changed the location and orientation of the patio for the walkout basement, saving us excavation (hourly rate) and made this better.
2) We changed interior room sizes (free span, no load-bearing walls) to adjust seeing them in place. These were not major changes, but if we had not been there during construction we would have missed the opportunity to enhance the house. You don't really know how a room feels until you put up walls, and some areas (i.e. closets) that look sufficient on paper might be too small or too large, or simply you have a better use for that space by moving a wall.
3) Custom kitchen layout. We had the architect simply provide us a space for the kitchen, no cabinet schedule or location. We met with a kitchen designer, but she was simply a cabinet salesperson. We eventually designed our own, and it is truly a joy to work in a nice kitchen. Had we left this up to a GC, we would have probably been happy, but not ecstatic like we are now.
4) Because our footers were poured wrong, we lost six inches in the entry and gained it in the master bathroom. We took the opportunity to redesign the mater bathroom and ended up with a much better layout. With a GC, this would have been a change order, with associated costs, even though it was actually a wash cost-wise. The plumber didn't care, we gave him a new layout before he started.
The above examples are so simple, however with a GC each would have resulted in change orders and additional cost.
 
How did you mark your lot for the excavator who dug your foundation?
 I hired the surveyor that platted the subdivision. He knew where the local benchmarks and lot pins already were. He marked the corners of the house, depth of excavation, and two offsets for every corner so the excavator could take out the corner pins and still find them based on the offsets.
 
Who built or installed your mailbox?
 This is actually kind of funny. In our subdivision they have common mailboxes (you walk up the street to get your mail). However on my street, the mailbox is full. The postal service said they would put in a new common mailbox and we would go up the street, but until then they would install a temporary mailbox and deliver mail to our house. They gave us a plastic bucket full of concrete with a mailbox sticking out of it, and this is where we get our mail. Nine months later, we still have our temporary mailbox - in front of a custom house.
Our next door neighbor just completed his house within the past month. The postal service installed a permanent mailbox in his yard, I guess we aren't getting a new common mailbox on our street anytime soon. I will put in a more attractive mailbox myself, but it is funny seeing that nice new house with a plastic bucket mailbox.
 
Are there planning steps that you would suggest that might not be in The Owner-Builder Book?
 When I got my preliminary plans, I shopped them to trades people so they could recommend changes to the plans to make it easier for them when actually doing the construction. This is not the time to screen potential subcontractors, but I feel a critical step in having a custom plan that is also easy for the trades putting it together. Everyone knows at least a couple of people in the trades, use their expertise in the design of your house.
 
Are there interview questions for subs that you would suggest that might not be in The Owner-Builder Book?
 Everyone knows to ask for references and check references. However, if I ask you for a job reference, who are you going to provide? You are going to provide people that will give you a good reference. Ask them for bad references. Anyone who has been in business very long has some customers they had disagreements with, it is these people you want to talk to and not people giving them glowing references. Find out the basis for the dispute and how it was corrected or handled, this tells you far more than someone with a positive reference.
Ask them for references from other O-B, this helps build your O-B network as well as giving you a good reference. Your O-B network is much more valuable than perhaps a GC they have worked for.
 
Did you have a good mentor who helped you accomplish this? Describe.
 Not really. I forged a lot of ground myself. However, I try to be a mentor to other O-B in the area.
 
Do you know examples of people being injured trying to do their own work? Tell what happened.
 Yes.
 
What were major causes of delays that occurred in your construction?
 
1) Weather
2) Coordination of subcontractors
3) Trying to do too much work myself. Ultimately this cost me time, as I tended to underestimate time for some tasks, resulting in delays. Almost everything I did saved me money, although cost me some time (and interest, although net was cost savings). In the end, I hired some people just to finish it off so I wouldn't have to worry about it. You are a limited resource; don't overbook yourself.
 
What was the age of your previous home?
 10 - 15 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?
 There was a Home Depot and a Lowe's between my job site and my other house. I was able to stop by almost daily to pick something up that I needed. When you purchase most of your own supplies, you better be prepared to have convenient sources when your plumber needs one more street 90, or you need one more coil of 12-2wg to wire those last switches.
 
How much more activity was there at end of project than in the middle?
 40%
 
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?
 More than 50 days
 
What self-work that you did would you hire out next time?
 
1) Roofing
2) Tile - I did a nice job but ended up hiring it out to finish it.
3) Siding - this took longer than I expected.
4) Finish work - I overbooked myself on finish work (paint, hardwood flooring, tile, siding, trim, etc.). I simply built too much in what I was trying to do myself at one time, and I simply ran out of time. At the end, you are tired and worn out, and this is not the time to have yourself be the cause of you not finishing your project.
 
Have you owner-built more than once?
 Only once
 
What are some examples of day to day problems you had to solve?
 My plumber and HVAC tech both wanted to use the same joist space. It could have been very congenial and was easily solved simply by talking through the issue and deciding who had the best use for the space. Instead I think they were going to take it outside and solve it with some testosterone. F this, F that, F you. Thankfully I was there and was able to work out a solution that served everybody, and no blood was shed.
When my roof trusses came, they were pitched wrong. This was a mistake on the plans, but when you have a load of wrong trusses is not the time to find fault or point fingers, it is the time to find solutions as this is a delay. We ended up working with the truss supplier to taper cut scabs that could be secured to the top chord to get the pitch we needed. We ate this cost, but it would have been much greater if we had tried to figure out who was to blame and make them correct the situation.
Our footers were laid out wrong, leading to a minor redesign in the plans. This worked out for the better because we ended up with an extra 6 inches in the master bathroom. Six inches doesn't sound like much, be we laid it out better to utilize the space and ended up with a much nicer bathroom.
Our plumbing supplier had a fire and lost a warehouse. Since we hadn't placed our order yet, they were not interested in our order. They were more worried about how they were going to fill existing orders than accept new orders. We ended up paying more for our finish materials through an Internet source, but we got them quickly.
If you have problems, don't look to place blame; look for solutions. Blame gets you nowhere when you need to resolve problems.
 
Did you do any creative problem solving?
 When our footers were laid out wrong and poured wrong, we lost 6" in our entry. We were prepared to have them poured correctly, basically built to the plans. Instead we took the opportunity and redesigned the plans to incorporate smaller entry with larger master bathroom.
 
What design strategies did you use to keep your house up to date?
 We talked to all of our subcontractors, they are familiar with their trades and what is being done. For example, our cabinetmaker also serves the most affluent neighborhoods in the area and had a lot of suggestions about what he is putting in in these multi-million dollar houses. Many of these ideas are not expensive, but they are really nice touches. Talk to your subs, they all have great ideas you will want to incorporate. And when you treat them as part of the team, they appreciate working for you.
 
How much management time did you and your spouse spend during the construction phase?
 500 - 600 hours
 
What were the benefits of your time on site?
 
1) Avoidance of rework and change orders.
2) Regardless of how detailed your plans are, there will always be questions. We could answer those questions. Our tradespeople knew that if they had a question, they could go to something else and we would be there before they left to answer the questions.
3) Bringing beer, soda, lunches. Nothing says thank you for hard work than beer at the end of the day, or lunch in the middle of the day for everyone on the job site. Never underestimate the power of goodwill with the trades.
 
Suggestions for controlling the job?
 We made a lot of pen-and-ink changes to the plans. When you change something, make sure you have a master plan with all of the changes.
For example, I ordered a larger window for the kitchen, and made the change on the set of plans. However I picked up a different set of plans for my ICF subcontractor, and the window was poured in concrete for the smaller window. When the windows came in, one didn't fit. When we could have been asking why, how, and at whose cost, the ICF subcontractor identified where the steel was in the header (we had more than enough) and went to the rental yard to get a gas powered chop saw and make it right. While this could have been an extra charge for me, instead due to the goodwill I had built up (lunch, dinner, beer, etc.) they just did it and made it right.
 
Daily duties?
 
1) If you have subcontractors out there working, they will have questions about your expectations.
2) If you get materials for your subcontractors (have them bid material separate from labor), they will have materials they need and this is your responsibility. If they called me in the middle of the day, I would tell them to take it off their truck and I will replace it when I get out there. If I was on site, I would be expected to make a run to the supply house to get materials.
3) Never quit shopping for supplies and subcontractors.

 
Sub recognition?
 
1) I want to have a subcontractor appreciation day and invite all of the subcontractors out to see the finished house. Many of the subcontractors are involved at the beginning and never see the final house, although they are critical in the construction project.
2) I have a closet in the basement I am going to allow all subcontractors to sign, kind of like a yearbook. You won't see it unless you are looking, but it is kind of a nice touch and something the history buffs will like 75 or 100 years from now when this site is historic.
3) www.sessaconstruction.net Show many subcontractor trucks - they like the free advertising.
4) I allow many of my suppliers and subcontractors to take pictures of my house to use in their advertising. It was a feature house in the greater Kansas City Home Show for Amvic (ICF); my ICF subcontractor has my house featured on his Internet site (including a link to mine), my deck builder took pictures that are in his advertising flyer, my HVAC tech has brought people by to show them ICF construction.
 
Would you be willing to help another owner-builder?
 Yes, I would respond to emails.
 
Did you install a water softener?
 I stubbed in for one
 
What was your planned schedule when you started out?
 11-12 months
 
If you had a general contractor estimate, how much did you save vs. average estimate?
 40-45%
 
Apples to apples, what utility savings did you get in your new house vs. old?
 >50%
 
Did you incorporate active solar panels (PV) into your home?
 No
 
Did you have a written schedule for construction?
 No
 
What anguish or fear of loss did you go through? What was your worst fear during the project?
 That it wouldn't get done.
 
How much would the trades you did yourself have cost in the marketplace?
 $10,000 - $30,000
 
How many trades did you do yourself?
 5
 
Did you read The Owner-Builder Book before you built your house?
 Yes
 
Was your project a new house or a remodel and addition?
 New house
 
Was your project urban or rural?
 In the city
 
What's the population of the community where you built?
 50,000-100,000
 
If stick-built, did you use 2x4 or 2x6 framing?
 It wasn't stick-built.
 
How much calendar time from when you first did some written planning to groundbreaking?
 Six to 12 months
 
Do you have experience using spreadsheets for budgeting or scheduling?
 Fifty times
 
How many books about contracting or the trades did you read when you owner-built?
 More than eight books
 
Do you know your credit score?
 No
 
How many houses did you own prior to this one?
 Three
 
What did you choose for wall insulation?
 Insulated Concrete Forms
 
What is the R-value of your walls?
 >R-40
 
How much construction industry experience did you have before you owner-built?
 1-2 years
 
Did you use any personal friends as subs?
 None
 
How many houses have you built, remodeled or added on to as an owner-builder?
 One
 
How many children do you have?
 None
 
How many children lived at home when you owner-built?
 None
 
How many bedrooms did you include in your owner-built house?
 Three
 
How many bathrooms did you include in your owner-built house?
 2-3
 
How many air conditioning units did you include in your owner-built house?
 One compressor
 
How much combined time did you take off work when you built?
 More than eight weeks
 
Did you take pictures of the job when you owner-built?
 Used a digital camera regularly
 
Are you a coupon shopper?
 I use a coupon < 10% of the time I grocery shop.
 
What are your favorite shows or cable channels?
 
HGTV
Speed Channel
 
Do you own a truck?
 Yes
 
How many covered vehicle spaces did you provide in your owner-built house?
 Three
 
How much personal use do you make of the Internet?
 10-15 hours
 
What were the most helpful websites for your owner-builder project?
 
www.ownerbuilderbook.com
ths.gardenweb.com
www.johnbridge.com
www.icfweb.com
www.buildingscience.com
http://www.freeroms.com/home_depot_coupon.html (10% off Home Depot and Lowe's coupons)
http://www.kerryteri.com/
 
Did you use a contracting consultant or an owner-builder program?
 No
 
If you used a contracting consultant or O-B program, what did it cost?
 Didn't use one
 
Why did you consider owner-building in the first place?
 In my locale, quality is secondary to square footage. Even in the $1M houses, quality takes a backseat to how much square footage can you pack under the roof. At this price range, quality was roughly the same as entry level new housing ($180K). We didn't need square footage, although looking at how much we built you might think so ;-). We were more focused on quality, this is reason #1.
Also. our lot is an infill lot, so we had to be mindful of our neighbors comparable housing. Our house is well overbuilt for our area in terms of square footage, modern amenities, and quality. Yet, with the money we saved by O-B we could sell the house in our neighborhood market and walk away without worry about being too overbuilt.
 
What was your original construction budget, not including land?
 $100,000 - $200,000
 
Do you want to say anything more about your house style or construction?
 I would encourage everyone to get an architect. The architect was able to figure out what I wanted better than I could adequately explain. You can get ideas from plan books and the Internet (among other sources) but the architect can put it together in a coherent format for you.
It is the difference between buying a suit off-the-shelf, and buying a custom suit. When you go to donate it to charity, they are both just suits to the next person. However, while you are wearing it, the custom suit is so much nicer. Get a house that fits your lifestyle, yet is still marketable when you have to sell it. After living in my house, using it every day, for a bit over a year, all I can say is the architect was definitely worth it.
Please note that the architect wasn't as expensive as some designers, yet he was also more expensive than others. I didn't use my architect for anything other than plans and structural details. No contract documents, no progress inspections, nothing--so in the end it wasn't much of a luxury price dealt between a custom set of plans and simply a stock set of plans.
 
What percentage of O-B's do you think get liened?
 5% - 10%
 
What help did you want but couldn't get?
 You may have to be resourceful, but everything you need is out there.
 
What did you find to be the top five biggest expenses in the budget? How much, and how to cut back?
 
1) Concrete - it is what is is. I needed a lot, I just bought what I needed.
2) Trusses - I could have used stick framing for the floors and roof. However trusses are far superior to 2x10 joists for so many reasons, and I like truss roof framing for accuracy and consistency, not to mention the truss suppliers get much nicer lumber than we do on the street. Again the price was what it was, you don't get to save money here.
 
How big was your punch list? How much time did it take you to finish it out?
 Actually, I am still working on it.
 
Was there anything you traded for materials or services?
 I tried to trade my suppliers names and contact information for discounts on services. For example, one tile layer couldn't believe the price I was paying for tile, because it was cheaper than his cost at his supplier (go figure, he shops one place and I shop every place?). Anyway I tried to get him to discount his installation costs and at the end of the job I would show him my invoices on tile, and give him my contact information at the shop, and he would more than make the difference on his next job. He wasn't interested, and still would never believe what I paid for tile. I ended up with a different tile layer, one that really didn't care what I paid for tile as he came out of the commercial side of the business and rarely did residential work.
 
What were the impact fees for you to build?
 $0
 
If ever you move from your O-B house, how long will you have lived in it?
 10 -15 years
 
How did your final appraisal compare with your preconstruction appraisal for the lender?
 Final appraisal was 10% more
 
What did the plans for your project cost?
 $4,000 - $5,000
 
How many tools do you own?
 $1,000 - $2,000
 
What was the average price quoted you to build your design? Highest price?
 $350K before the upgrades got added on (I only got one bid). Upgrades we added on included stainless steel appliances, all hard surface floors, corian countertops, custom cabinetry, composite deck. Yep those general's make a bunch of money...
 
Were there features in your home that you implemented for free or cheap because of planning?
 Tile, we purchased a ton of tile on closeout for next to nothing, at least 80% off. We weren't even ready to shop for tile yet, didn't have a place to store it, but tripped across it just looking for ideas. We decided it would work, quickly calculated how much we might need, and then said forget it we will take the whole pallet because we didn't want to end up short. Excess tile (after keeping enough for some repairs down the road) got donated to Habitat for Humanity.
In a kitchen, I hate how those big refrigerators stick out past your cabinetry. Why not inset them into the wall, this is a minor difference in how you frame the wall behind the refrigerator, and not it sits flush. You won't mistake them for a Sub-Zero built-in, but the look is so much cleaner and more upscale at no additional cost. It is small things like this that cause you to smile when you look at other people's houses and then think of your own.
 
Were you ever lied to by a contractor? Examples?
 I will be there tomorrow.
Did I quote that?
I need this progress payment to pay my supplier. Calling the supplier a couple of weeks later to get a lien release because they wan't another progress payment, hey that supplier didn't get paid after all, what did you do with the progress payment?
 
What year did you get your certificate of occupancy?
 2005
 

Future Owner-Builder for Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO at OwnerBuilderBook.com - Build Your Own Home

How many hours do you project spending as a couple, counting planning and construction?
 > 1,000 hrs.
 
Who will take primary responsibility in your family for the work?
 Both equally
 
How many finished levels in your future owner-built house?
 Two
 
How many times are you planning to do this?
 Two
 
What type of construction are you planning?
 ICF
 
Planned house style?
 Contemporary
 
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