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I have been reading the posts for over a year now and have learned so much.
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Owner-Builder Book News - April 2010

Mark A. Smith, Editor Vol. 9 Number 1 - April, 2010

  • Note from the Editor
  • Phoenix-Area Owner-Builder Get-Together Experience
  • Call for Moderators
  • Forum/Moderator Winners
  • Helpful Answers to Survey Questions

Note from the Editor

Why Owner-Build?

In the thread, "Realities of O-B Savings", Jeff in Hartland, WI says:

"Great thread.  I agree that it seems that the main reason for most folks to owner-build is to save money. That might be the most common initial motivation. But I think that there are really as many reasons to build your own home as there are owner-builders. In my case, I wanted to build on my own, because I wanted more house than I could get for the same price with a builder. I wanted more control over the process, and I wanted to do it because I'd never done it before. Generally, I like to create things. My hobby is woodworking, and I love creating furniture, built-ins, etc. This just seemed like a natural extension.

But don't get me wrong, I have absolutely no doubt that an owner can almost always build an identical house cheaper than a builder can. But the house the owner builds isn't the house a builder would build. Did we really save money by building our own house? No. But we definitely got more house for the same money. Our budget was our budget. We would have spent the same amount on an existing home, on a home built by a builder, or on a house that we built ourselves. Because we built the house ourselves, we got exactly the house we wanted, the features we wanted, the layout we wanted, the materials we wanted, and the construction techniques we wanted, in the location we wanted, for the price we wanted (almost). We wouldn't have gotten all of that any other way. 

I believe an owner can save money in three ways by building their own house: 
  1. Removing the project management and builder profit from the cost of the house.
  2. Saving on material costs by smart shopping. 
  3. Saving on labor costs by doing work themselves. 
I managed the project--which saved me about 10 to 15 percent of the cost of the project. I also did the majority of "finish" work myself, which saved me another 10 to 15 percent. I installed the hardwood floors, installed structured wiring, installed about half of the tile, milled my own trim work and did the majority of finish carpentry, caulked and painted both the interior and exterior, and with the help of family, did the staining and varnishing. Would I have gotten better results by hiring professionals for each of those trades? Almost definitely--at least for most of the trades. I also would have saved a lot of time and sanity. But then I couldn't have afforded the house I wanted. I would have had to sacrifice on the size of the house, the materials, the location, or some other aspect to pay for all that labor. 

I'm continuing to take a similar approach with upgrades after the fact. I'm finishing my workshop now, and doing even more trades on my own. I just finished wiring and installing drywall, and now I'm mudding the drywall. Once it's done, I'll mill and install the trim, and build built-in tool cabinets. I expect that 900-square-foot workshop will cost me less than $2,000 to $3,000 to finish. I'll do the same range of work in the rest of the basement, and I'll bring our finished workshop/basement in at less than half the cost for twice the square footage as many of our neighbors. On these projects, I'm saving money."

In the thread, "Savings vs. large-scale-development clone houses", Jon in Ellicott City, MD says,

"You could never build a house as cheaply as a mega-builder can. The Rylands and Ryans of the world buy land in huge chunks, so the house plots are far cheaper than you could purchase them individually. They're ahead of you before you even break ground. Once the building starts, it gets even more lopsided. They have the process, the materials, and the labor well-tuned to the specific goal of saving every penny they can.  These guys are housebuilding machines. Trying to build the same house more cheaply than them is like trying to underbid McDonalds or Walmart.

What you can do, as an O-B, is build a much better house, a house that is designed to address all your priorities and needs, and do that more cheaply than a custom builder. (The "more cheaply" part is wholly dependent upon your careful planning and diligence. It's not a given.)

I have no idea how much house you can build in your neck of the woods for the budget you mentioned, so can't comment much on that. However, where I live, you would pay twice that for a Ryland townhouse next to the freeway."

Jay in Elkhart, IN adds: "Jon is very right. You really have define what you are looking for. With experience in the large-scale homes, I can tell you as Jon stated you can build a better house for about the same price or more, and you can quite possibly get better materials. I can tell you a lot of times these "production houses" are just that - "production"; and no matter what factory assembly line you are working in, quality is always an issue. Especially where there are a lot more variables that can affect the outcome; e.g. subcontracted labor."

Free DVDs at

We're overstocked on our Ten Commandments of Owner-Builder DVDs and our original video program, The Owner-Builder Workshop DVDs. We've already given away some of them in our "Choose Your DVD - One Free with Any Purchase" event at the site. People have figured out that tiny little purchases trigger a free DVD, and that there's nothing to stop you from making multiple separate purchases to get as many DVDs as you please.

To see a half-dozen video highlights of our DVD titles, click here: DVD Highlights.

Print Your Journals

After you sign into the site, you'll see "User Tools" in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Click on "Your Blog" and you'll see the block that allows you to revise the name of your blog. Also, you'll see the button that allows you to print your blog as one continuous report or book. It makes a PDF customized for you.

Forum/Moderator Winners

Forum Winner, 2009 - James in Lemoore, CA

March 3rd, 2010 10 pm eastern time: we are announcing that the 2009 Forums winner of a valuable grand-prize round trip on Southwest Airlines is James in Lemoore, CA. James has been posting since 2008. Our annual forums winner is selected at random each year based on the number of posts, votes, blogs and interview answers made during the year. A person with only one or two Forum posts can potentially win - that happened in 2002, and 2004, for example. James beefed up his chances of winning with an active year, though. Check out James' forum posts, journal entries, and interview answers

We are also awarding merit prizes for outstanding contributions to:

Additionally, we are announcing that the 2009 Moderator winner is Jeff in Hartland, WI.  Jeff has been a member of our site since 2007. He also won a round trip on Southwest Airlines. The Moderator prize is also selected at random, but based on editorial activities: votes on posts, edits of posts and journal entries, and private messages to other posters. Only ten moderators had any activity at all in 2009, making this an extremely-easy near-$1,000-value prize to win. Wanna be a Moderator? Just email Mark:

Helpful Answers to Survey Questions

Question: Do you have other suggestions or comments for owner-builders?

Mark in Provo, UT said:
Do your homework, it's a great comfort when you build. Don't neglect thorough planning for any self-work you intend. Preconstruction 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 can't do this.

Aimee in Kalamazoo, MI said:
If you have no experience, make sure you are as well educated in the whole process as you can become before you even finalize your floor plan

Eric in Seaville, NJ said:
Figure out what the purpose of your house is. If you're going to live there a long time, price is of far less concern than quality. Don't omit things that you'll regret later. Think energy efficiency, prices never go down! Think low maintenance.

Were there aspects of your home that were improved because of your owner-builder involvement?

Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO said:
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.

Kathlyn in Orlando, AL said:
This house is built like a Mercedes Benz, no other home I have seen is as well-built.

What were the biggest construction bargains you found, and how did you find them?

Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO said:
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.

Roger in Petoskey, MI said: Rough framing labor found cheaper by diligent bidding.  Don't be afraid to ask for the manager to get a %10 discount.  Five minutes saved me $2000 on cabinets.

Karl in Reno, NV said:
Used Internet for pricing everything.

Lori in Reno, NV said:
Paid $50 for carpet measure to secure 20% sale, then paid for carpet on Veterans day to get another 10% off (military). We also went on HD and Lowe's website and printed all the rebates and bought items based on the rebate time frame. With the insulation alone we got a $375 gift card, and if we had split the order up we could have gotten $1,500 in gift cards.

How did you find other owner-builders to network with?

Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO said:

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.

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