Start Your Project Guide

This post is intended to guide those who wish to build their own home or are considering hiring a contractor, and help answer the questions that may occur while pursuing this undertaking. I will proceed to divide this into several categories.

#1 Preparation

As in any important endeavor, preparation is essential. One of your first decisions is where to locate your home. Once you have a general idea of the type of home you would like to build, be sure to choose a lot that will complement your home style in the area that you want to reside.

Next find out if there are Covenants associated with the lot. Most subdivisions have covenants that govern the design and size of the home. Many people have purchased land and find that the restrictions will not allow them to build the desired home. Often there is a homeowners association that will review your plans before a permit for construction is issued. Remember that the home size, finish, and most importantly the budget, need to be addressed before the purchase of the land.

Now contemplate the following questions

  1. Do you want a basement? some locations have a high water table that cannot accommodate a basement also there could be bedrock which is expensive and difficult to remove. If you’re lot slopes, your plans might need to be modified to entertain a basement or a walkout basement could be a great alternative. Note that earthwork can often be more expensive than a basement see
  2. What utilities are available?  many subdivisions have gas, power, sewer and often phone and some data connection stopped to the lot. Stabbing means that there is connection on the lot for each of these utilities if you have to run a long-distance connection for any of these items, it can be very expensive.
  3. Can I get a building permit on my Chosen site? most jurisdictions have some construction regulations. Before you purchase the land, be sure to check with your local building official for building confirmation. There may a be minimum lot size four Construction.  each communities regulations differ.
  4. Is my lot spacious enough to build what I want? There are usually setback requirements for construction the new structure will need to be a certain distance off the front, back and side of the property. For example; if your lot is 80 feet wide with a 15ft required setback on each side your maximum width will be 50 feet.

#2 Developing Construction Plans.

Now that you have complied with the lot Preparations, it is time to develop your house plans. This can be one of the most difficult steps. It is a big decision and might require much contemplation.  here are some items to consider in the process.

  1. What fits in my budget?  Cost often determines home size Style types of material Etc. If you  are borrowing for your new home, obtain from your financial institution the amount you qualify for, factoring in your projected house payment.
  2. You can use our online finance calculator to determine your monthly payment. then use Cost To Build to get a cost estimate for your plan concept.
  3. Creating construction plans. When it comes to creating plans, there are several options. You may want to purchase plans online, or find a contractor that has plans. another Choice could be to hire a designer or draw your own custom plans. in many jurisdictions you may need a professional engineer to review the plans. With all these options lets explore the advantages and disadvantages.
    1. Online plans, of course, afford the quickest selection. One of the most popular options today, is to look for plans on the internet. many sites such as provide great plans at affordable prices. You might find a plan that is perfectly designed for you. Most sites will charge for changes to these plans. Make sure that internet purchased plans meet your local requirements and that you buy enough set for the entire construction process. Today it is important to have a PDF copy of the plans to distribute to subcontractors.
    2. Now, when it comes to contractor provided plans many contractors have books of plans that they have built several times. This is an advantage, because of the contractor’s familiarity with the plan. They should also have a good grasp on the cost of the construction. as an incentive they may provide the plans for free, if they are hard to build your home. as a disadvantage you may be limiting some of your design and price options, as well as your ability to shop price.
    3. Hiring a local designer will give you more flexibility with your plans, typically a designer should be familiar with local requirements and have the ability to meet all of them. Make sure that  you acquaint yourself to what you are purchasing and what the designer is providing. Many designers do not include engineered plans with their package.
    4. Next we will be discussing designing your own plans. I do not recommend this choice for most people. Seemingly small mistakes in the plan can cost more than a custom home designers fee. If you do design your own plans I suggest that you hire a professional to review your plans before Construction.

Do I need my plans engineered? Many areas require plans to be stamped by a professional engineer, so you need to check with your local jurisdiction. an engineer will Design all of the beams and structure of your home. The engineer will factor in likely forces that could act upon your home in your area, such as wind, seismic, or snow loads and design your home to resist these forces. in areas with higher risk you should have your home plans engineered.

#3 Who Will Build My Home.

Now it’s time to make the decision of how you will have your home built. are you going to build it yourself? The following list are things to contemplate.

1. Cost. the assumption is that if you build the house yourself you will save the entire overhead and profit fees. While it is true you will not pay these fees, they’re often other things to consider. Such as Sub Contractor Fee’s: Most General Contractors negotiate better prices from supply companies and also, because of relationships, will obtain discounted prices from subcontractors. Your job will be to balance out the Savings in contrast to the more inflated costs you’re likely to pay.

2.  What is your time worth? Managing the construction of a new home is no easy feat. Significant time will be spent contacting subcontractors, keeping them on schedule and making sure things are done correctly. It is important to contemplate whether you have the time or are willing to dedicate sufficient time to this undertaking.

3. Funding:  to fund construction many people negotiate a construction loan with a lending Institution. It is important to know, that if you are the contractor, you may be required to come up with a large down payment or the bank may be hesitant to loan you the money without a general contractor. Many contractors fund the home construction while they build it, this may save you some of the fees associated with a construction loan. Costs will vary, but usually you are charged a larger origination fee plus interest on money used throughout the construction process.

4. Time Frame:  typically homes can be constructed in about 3 to 9 months. More complicated homes will take longer to construct. Most people are paying for a place to live while waiting for their new home to be built That’s costing more money. Construction loans usually have the time limit on them, approximately six to nine months scheduling during the construction phase will be instrumental in the timely building of your home. If you do hire a contractor be sure to specify in your contract the time frame for completion if you decide to build your own home make sure  your subs commit to a schedule. please refer to the construction schedule section for more information.

#4 Choosing a Contractor

In this section will discuss the option to use a contractor. One of the most important options for a successful construction project is choosing the right general contractor. You’re trusting the contractor to turn your plans into the home you envisioned. Some areas important to consider are trust competency in scheduling and project management, quality of work and the ability to stay within your established budget. We will now expound on each of these areas.

  1. Trust:  During the construction of your home your expectations are elevated, in that your money should be used efficiently in the production of your home. you expect your contractor to hire the right people and distribute the funds correctly. Many states will enforce liens on the property if subs and workers do not receive money for their work and supplies. In this case you, the homeowner, would be responsible to pay to remove the lien. Finding a contractor that you can trust to look out for your interests is Imperative!
  2. Competency:  being a trustworthy contractor is vital, but you need to confirm whether your contractor has scheduling, management and good accounting skills. While this may be difficult to judge during an interview there are some indicators. Look at the cost proposal presented by the contractor and make sure that it makes sense. Ask for referrals and talk to those who have used the contractor on their building projects.
  3. Quality: Most contractors build at a level in their comfort zone. it is important to establish or expected end result, such as “do you want basic painted trim”  or custom stained finishes? factor in the homes that you have reviewed which were constructed by your contractor, and decide whether they meet your projected standards. Remember that general contractors who typically build starter homes often employ Subs who do starter home work. Your research is complete, if you are not comfortable start the process again with a new contractor.
  4. Cost: When you get your initial bid from contractors the final amount will likely vary greatly. The more detailed your plans the closer prices will line. If your plans lack detail the contractor may make assumptions about what you want and this will affect your end price. Some general contractors will give you a lump sum price based on you using what they normally do. it’s important to understand what you’re getting. Typically there are allowances on the cost summary that you can choose as you go through the construction process. your allowances let you know how much money is available for that specific item. As you compare bids be sure to adjust for different grade levels and allowances between bids.

When the time comes to higher your general contractor you should have a contract in place that protects both sides.  To enhance this process you can hire an attorney to review the contract. I will proceed to list some items for you to contemplate.

  1. Construction time frame:  your contract should Define the maximum length of time for construction for a completion date. if your home is not progressing or at a standstill you can use this portion of the contract to motivate your contractor.
  2. Cost breakdown:  the contractor should provide you with an overall cost with an item break down with attention to allowances. Remember the with these allowances the contractor specifies a cost per individual component, such as cabinets. If  your design for cabinets goes over the allowable budget you are required to pay the difference. Your contractor may Suggest picking out everything before Construction, in this case a lump sum price may be acceptable.  
  3. Make a list of your own concerns and make sure the contract addresses these items.

Structural Engineering

I am often asked do I need a structural engineer to review my plans and if so what do they do. The answer to this question depends on the location you will be building as well as how complex is your project.

Currently I am a licensed engineer in the states of Utah and Idaho. The advice I am giving is generalized and each project should be looked at on an individual basis by a licensed engineer.

The more complex a home the more need for engineered drawings. You don’t want your framers or general contractors sizing beams on a guess that it should work. This could result in an undersized beam with excessive deflection or worse beam failure. On the other side it could result in an over sized beam which is more expensive than needed.

What does an engineer do? We design a structure not to fail. Some of the thing we design a structure to resist are listed below. This is not a complete list of possible threats to a structure, but some of the most common ones.

  1. Snow and other loads that are likely to act on the roof.
  2. Loads that could be present in the structure, such as people furniture and storage.
  3. Wind loads on the structure.
  4. Seismic loads that will be present in the event of an earthquake.

At a minimum the design should be done to protect life as well as property, comfort and performance should also be a consideration. The most common example I see of under design for comfort is the design of a floor structure. Floor joist are often strong enough to resist failure at a long span, but the deflection or movement in the floor will be considered a nuisance to many occupants. This issue can easily be avoided in the fist place by properly sizing the joist, but may be very difficult to fix later.

Contracting Guide

As I begin to design a home for someone the question of being your own contractor is often asked. “Why not contract my own home and save a general fee of 10% to 15%”. This would be a significant savings. To answer this question let’s discuss what a contractor does. 

What Does a Contractor Do

A contractor will supervise and coordinate the construction of your home.  Sounds easy so what does that involve? Let’s step through the typical home construction process and see where the contractors services would be used.

  1. Find a lot to build on: As you look to purchase a building lot it’s important to understand what improvement may be needed before a building permit can be issued.  Sometimes a parcel of land may not be ready for a residence to be constructed on it.  It may need road and or utility upgrades.  High water tables may need to be mitigated. Check with the local jurisdiction to make sure a parcel is buildable before you purchase it. Steep slopes will likely increase construction costs as well as landscaping costs.
  2. Obtain Construction plans:  Coming up with a set of construction plans that meet your needs is often done with the help of a Home Designer or Architect. Some of the benefits of involving a qualified contractor are they know what methods of construction are typically used in the area you plan to build and they can help you obtain a plan that will fit your budget.  One of the benefits of providing your own construction plans through and independent Home Designer is the ability to shop contractors after you have complete plans. 
  3. Obtain a building permit: Depending on the jurisdiction you are building in this can be as simple as paying a fee, but is often much more involved.  Most jurisdictions will require you to provide the license number and contact information for your General contractor, Electrical Subcontractor, HVAC Subcontractor, Plumbing Subcontractor and sometimes more. 
  4. Supervise Construction: This is where it gets much more involved. While each home is unique in the required construction process I am going to lay out the typical list of tasks below.  This will be with the assumption of standard Wood Construction. The list does not include every possible item or task that will need to be accomplished for every home, but attempts to lay out the most common task.  It should be noted that the order of some items may be changed and many tasks can be done concurrently with others. Scheduling is a critical aspect of completing a home in a timely manner.
    1. Temporary Power: Power source to be used during construction. 
    2. Stake out corners of home:  This can be done with the use of survey equipment or with a few long tape measures and a level. 
    3. Trackout Mat Installation:
    4. Scrape Lot: Remove top soil in the construction area and save for future landscaping needs.
    5. Re-stake the corners:  Once the topsoil is removed you must re-stake the corners in order to accurately dig for the foundation. 
    6. Excavate for footings and foundation:  Usually this is done with a large excavator. 
    7. Re-stake the corners: After Excavation We again need to locate the corners of the home. This is again done with survey equipment or tape measures and levels. 
    8. Stub Utilities: This step can be completed after the footing and foundation are poured, but is typically easier to do before. 
    9. Place footings:  The typical footing is constructed out of concrete.  They are constructed by building a form placing rebar in the correct locations per the plans and pouring the concrete into the forms. 
    10. Pouring foundations:
    11. Underground Plumbing: If the home will have a basement or its a slab on grade home all the plumbing on the lowest level will need to be roughed in before the floor is poured. If the home has a crawl space this may be accomplished after the home is framed up, but some plumbers will still choose to do this before framing.
    12. Under Slab Heating: Sometimes the heating ducts are run under the slab, if this is the case it should be coordinated with the underground plumbing.
    13. Radon Mitigation Rough in:
    14. Gravel Under Slab: Place gravel under the slab as well as setting forms as required. 
    15. Radiant heating Pipes in slab:
    16. Pour Lower Floor: 
    17. Framing:
    18. Backfill Foundation & Rough Grade: The foundation is often backfilled before or during the framing process, but caution must be taken to ensure the foundation is properly supported before it is backfilled. For a basement the framed floor supports the top of the wall and the foundation can tip into the home if the floor is not installed. 
    19. Roof Underlayment:
    20. Install Exterior Doors:
    21. Install Windows:
    22. Shore and Pour Suspended Slabs: Suspended slabs are often poured during the framing process.  Usually after the floors are framed at the same level as the slab.
    23. Rough Plumbing: This may be going on at the same time as Rough Heating, and needs to be coordinated with heating duct locations.
    24. Rough Heating: This may be going on at the same time as Rough Plumbing, and needs to be coordinated with Plumbing runs.
    25. Rough Electrical:
    26. Rough Low Voltage: This may include telephone lines, networking wiring, home theater wiring, whole home sound system wiring, security system and more.
    27. Permanent power to Home:
    28. Gas Connection: 
    29. Roofing:
    30. Insulation:
    31. Sheetrock:
    32. Hang Interior Doors:
    33. Trim Work: Trim Work includes Casing around Doors And Windows as well as building shelves in closets. 
    34. Install Railing: Install any railing.  Some people prefer to install the railing after painting. 
    35. Painting:
    36. Hard Flooring Installation: Tile and Wood Flooring installation:
    37. Tub and Shower Surrounds:
    38. Cabinet Installation: Depending on the flooring type the cabinets may need to be installed before the flooring.
    39. Countertop Installation:
    40. Finish plumbing:
    41. Finish Electrical:
    42. Finish Heating:
    43. Install Door Hardware:
    44. Exterior Siding: Typically the exterior siding can be started after the rough electrical is complete.  
    45. Exterior Concrete:  Exterior concrete can be completed once the rough grading is complete, but is often not done until near the end of construction to avoid being damaged by subs. 
    46. Install HVAC Compressors: The typical compressor is part of the cooling system of the home or in the case of a heat pump it is utilized for heating and cooling. The compressor is often installed on a concrete or composite pad.  
    47. Final Grading:
    48. Landscaping:
  5. Inspections: Inspections are required by most jurisdictions.  During the construction process several items will need to be inspected depending on your local requirements.
    1. Footing Inspection: Check distances from property lines, rebar placement Electrical ground attached to rebar.
    2. Utility Connections:
    3. Foundation Wall inspection:
    4. Underground Plumbing and other Utilities under the slab:
    5. Radiant piping Test: For radiant in slab heating if used. 
    6. Nailing Inspection:
    7. Weather Barrier:
    8. Four way inspection: Framing, HVAC, Plumbing & Electrical
    9. Insulation: Must be inspected before sheetrock installed. 
    10. Sheetrock Attachment:
    11. Final Inspection:

Contracting Your Own Home

Now we have an overview of how to contract Your Own Home.  Many people have successfully contracted their own homes and saved much of the contracting fee, unfortunately I have also worked with many people who have gotten into trouble during the construction phase.  So lets discuss some of the more common problems that arise. These issues are not isolated to those contracting their own home, but tend to be avoided by an experienced contractor. 

  1. Underestimated the Budget:  Too often homeowners get partway through the construction process and the cost overages begin to take over the budget, leaving insufficient funds to complete the project as planned.
  2. Extended Construction Time:  Gaps in the schedule create unproductive times during construction and extend the overall construction time.  Subcontractors going over there allotted time can push other subcontractors back and require rescheduling.  
  3. Subcontractors not completing all tasks:  I often see a tendency for subcontractors to ask that someone else complete a task that should likely be completed by them, especially when they know their customer may not be as familiar with the process.  When there is a problem everyone tends to point to someone else and say it’s not their responsibility. It’s important to lay out exactly what each subcontractor will be required to accomplish to avoid this issue.
  4. Obtaining Subcontractors: In an area where construction is thriving subcontractors tend not to be looking for new work.  When you have only one project, you will often become a low priority. 
  5. Bulk Discounts: Contractors are able to get better prices on construction materials as well as labor costs through bulk purchasing. When the construction industry is busy, I have seen Owner Contractors unable to get subcontractors to work on their projects.

Choosing a Contractor

Choosing a qualified contractor will likely be the most important decision in the success of you new home. Take the time to interview and get to know your contractor of choice to ensure you have chosen a competent and trustworthy contractor to build your new home.