If you’re looking for a step-by-step how-to guide on how to build a house…you’ve probably come to the wrong place. But if you’re anything like us and you’re thinking of being an owner builder (building your own house and being your own general contractor), you may be able to learn a few things from our experience this past summer.
It was always a dream of ours to build a house. We have lived in three different houses and have done many different renovations while living in each one, so it seemed like the next step would be to start from scratch. Let me just start by saying that we are not contractors by trade. We just both really like houses and doing renovations and love a great challenge. Tony has worked in construction before, and we also got a lot of help and advice from family and friends about the building process. And anything we didn’t know we googled.
The job of a general contractor is to hire and schedule all the subcontractors, estimate the quantity of supplies needed, order all supplies, balance the budget, make decisions about every little detail, as well as be at the job site as often as possible. The goal of being an owner builder is that you can save money that would have been paid to hire a general contractor. For us, being our own general was a challenge and we didn’t want to give up that control to someone else.
Planning the House
Before we could get started building though there was lots of planning. We bought 30 acres of land in March 2014 and spend the next year thinking about house plans and layouts that would be best for our family. Our family has lived in three totally different houses, so by that point we sort of knew what we wanted. We bought some home design software and I spent a lot of time playing around with floor plans and room dimensions. When we had nailed down our layout we had the official building plans drawn up by someone local. Tony and I decided to build a 1650 square foot raised bungalow. Planning for the house also included lots of reading to become familiar with the building code and home construction, and then getting many different quotes and nailing down a budget.
All along I expected the whole process to take about six months. We finally got our occupancy permit last week! It took us 35 weeks, or roughly 8 months. I think it took us a little longer than expected because we ended up doing a lot of the finishing work ourselves at the end, and that was usually in the evenings or weekends, or whenever someone else could watch the kids.
New Years Eve seems like a great day to look back at everything we’ve accomplished over the last 35 weeks!
Weeks 1-3: Foundation
We broke ground for the build on April 20, 2016. Over the next three weeks we worked on the foundation, including the footings and the insulated concrete forms. Our main contractors (Dovetail Carpentry) did most of the work during the day, while Tony ordered supplies and organized everything. Tony would go to the house every day for a couple hours after working at his real job. We would try to go together on Saturdays throughout the summer, though it was often difficult to bring the kids. Sometimes I would get to go to the house in the evenings by myself for my “night out”. We would try and take Sundays off from working at the house; this gave us a day to spend with family or friends, and it always felt good to take a break and be refreshed for the new week.
Weeks 4-7: Framing
After the foundation was done we moved on to framing over the next four weeks. This was a very exciting time because it felt like progress happened very quickly. It really started to feel like a house because we could get an idea of the room sizes and placement.
Weeks 8-9: Trusses and Tin Roof
Then over the next two weeks was the trusses and tin roof. We had a great summer for building because we hardly got any rain (not so great for the farmers around here!) We basically never had to take a day off for rain in those first few months. However, the day we rented a crane to put up the trusses was incredibly windy and the trusses were flying all over the place. And then the day we did the tin was scorching hot and the guys’ hands were burning through their gloves! The weather is a huge factor when building a house, and very much unpredictable. I would say that overall we were pretty lucky with the weather this summer.
Weeks 10-13: Interior Framing and Windows
Over the next four weeks we worked on interior framing, plumbing, the basement floor, and then towards the end of July we had the windows installed. I remember feeling very excited and relieved at this point to have the whole house closed in, and not to have to worry about water getting in the house, if it were ever to rain.
Weeks 14-16: Plumbing, Electrical and HVAC
After the house was closed in we had more subcontractors come in to finish the plumbing, do electrical, and have the HVAC installed (Week 14). Outside work included the soffit and fascia around the roof, and the garage floor and the front stoop where we stamped our own concrete.
Week 17: Insulation and Moving Day
In the middle of August we were frantically trying to pack because we had to move out of our third house by August 19. We were also insulating the new house and spending several days that week at the house. I think this was the most stressful week of the summer for me. I didn’t sleep well all week, then every day there was lots to do including packing, working at the house, and trying and find patience to deal with the kids. That was not a great week, but we had a lot of help with the move and in the end it all turned out all right.
This was also when we moved into the trailers that we set up behind the house. This was our “vacation” for the summer. We camped in those trailers for about 6 weeks. The kids loved it. Tony and I got tired of it quickly. Looking back though it was a bit of an adventure.
Weeks 18 and 19: Exterior Stone and Drywall
Once we were living in the trailers it was easier for Tony and I to work on the house during kids naptimes and at night when the kids went to bed. Throughout September we had the stone on the house installed by Dejong Masonry. Also in September my brother came to live with us for a week and he did all the drywall mudding himself.
Weeks 20-23: Flooring, Trim, & Kitchen Cabinets
Then after the drywall was finished there was lots of interior work to do. Some of the highlights over September and October included painting and hardwood flooring, trim and doors, and the installation of the kitchen cabinets.
Week 24: Bathroom
The main bathroom was a huge project that we didn’t ever expect would take so long. The tiled shower got us pretty discouraged because it took such a long time, and we didn’t do it quite as perfectly as we had hoped. But we managed to finish and we’re very happy that we have a working bathroom.
Weeks 25-27: Siding and Stairs
In October we had Dovetail Carpentry come back to install all the siding on the exterior of the house, as well as install the stairs. The stairs were a joint effort between our cabinet maker (Vedder Woodworking), Tony and I, as well as Dovetail Carpentry. We also finally finished up the covered deck at the back of the house.
Weeks 28-35: Interior Finishing
The last eight weeks we’ve been focusing on finishing up the interior. This included installing all the light fixtures, some trim, some hardwood, some closet rods and organizers, tiling the front hall, working on the ensuite bathroom…all of this in between regular life.
In the kitchen we had white quartz countertops installed, and installed all the cabinet hardware ourselves. There’s still a few details yet to finish in the kitchen like the crown moulding and decorative legs on the island, but we’re not really in a rush for that.
So after 35 weeks the house is finished enough that we were granted our occupancy permit. We still have a bit of work to do, but now that we have our permit it takes the pressure off. There’s still some remaining trim to install, then I have to caulk and paint it all. Then in the spring there’s landscaping and flower gardens. And then someday we hope to finish the basement by adding two bedrooms and another bathroom.
It has been a crazy year and it has been a ton of work. We could not have done it without the help from friends and family. So would we do it again? I would say no, not our own house. We don’t ever want to move again. And not with little kids. There were a few points this summer that I lost track of why we ever thought this would be a good idea. But I also don’t think we’re finished yet with building and renovating. We’ve been living in renovations for eight years and we’re not totally sick of it. It’s a common interest for Tony and I. We enjoy working together, and often talk about home renovations and other building projects. We have lots of future goals and dreams, so if you want to see what we’re up to I would be so happy if you continue to follow along!
If you are an owner builder, or plan to build your own house, I would love to hear from you! It’s nice to know that we are not the only crazy family for taking on such a huge task.