So You Want to Build Your Own Home?

When I first decided to build my own house, I was so excited. I figured six months, maybe eight tops, and I would be in my new home sipping coffee!

Well, eighteen months later, I moved into my new home. But it was worth every bit of the headache, sore muscles and time spent. Nothing could be more fulfilling than living in a home you helped build with you own hands! Ideally, every day is either sunny or partly cloudy with no chance of rain, and seventy degrees. But that never happens.

Building your own home may seem like an impossible task, but if you have home improvement experience, you can learn the steps needed to be your own general contractor!

Suppliers may ship your entire order when you order it and subcontractors run into delays on other job sites. So, you have to be prepared to handle setbacks and manage chaos. There’s pretty much a set order of how things are done. The primary reason is due to codes and permits that apply across the country.

Another reason is cost; proven methods used to build homes help to produce reliable housing quickly, and at a relatively low cost. While I can’t prevent your own panic attacks about never being finished with your home, I can give some ideas and a guideline of what to expect and when.

Site Preparation and Foundation

The first crew on the site does grading and site preparation. Often, site prep and the foundation will be done by the same contractor.

The most common foundations for building a home include slab-on-grade, basements and perimeter foundations with crawl spaces. This is a major decision to make when working with your architect and will be based on your home’s design, local codes and conventions, and potentially by your home’s building site.

Framing and Roof Trusses

The framing crew will be next up. They start with the floor, unless you are using a slab foundation.

The floor starts with a sill-plate made of pressure-treated lumber in direct contact with the bricks of the crawl space wall. Once the floor framing is complete, it is covered with 1/2-inch or 5/8-inch plywood or OSB (oriented strand board).

Next, the framing crew next starts framing the walls, which are assembled on the floor and then raised into place.

Once the walls are framed and raised into place, your home begins to take shape.

Sheathing is typically put on using either OSB or plywood, giving the walls exceptional rigidity. This negates the need for diagonal reinforcement used in older homes built prior to the availability of these products. Plywood or OSB sheathing is much stronger.

Pre-fabricated trusses are a good way to go for roof framing. These Triangular wood-framed structures support your roof. Another alternative is to build a frame for your roof using 2×8 and 2×10 boards, which is substantially more time consuming.

Trusses are popular and have several main benefits:

  • Trusses provide superior strength
  • They are also cheaper, since they can be manufactured using short lengths of 2×4 lumber
  • Custom ordering trusses allows unique architectural features like cathedral ceilings without breaking your budget
  • Trusses are good for long spans, since they transfer all of the weight to exterior walls. This allows greater flexibility for placement of interior walls, since they are not load-bearing
  • Trusses are installed very quickly, helping accelerate your project
  • As a homeowner, the only real disadvantage is that your home has attic space

Windows and doors go in place before roofing begins.Doors and Windows

After the roof trusses come doors and windows, which should be ordered and scheduled to arrive as a single shipment, so that they can all be installed at one time and prior to roofing. This is because adding the weight of roofing materials will cause settling, so you want to install door and window frames first.

Roofing and Siding

Roofing comes next, with tar paper being laid down and your roofing materials. This process varies somewhat, depending on whether you have chosen shakes, composite shingles, tile roofing, metal roofing, etc.

Then comes siding; one good choice is to use vinyl siding, which is less expensive than many alternatives. Cedar is also a common natural material used for siding. Stucco is also popular, especially in the Southwest, where its insulating qualities make it extremely desirable.

Most of the rough plumbing and electrical is done after framing, while the walls are open.Plumbing and Electrical

Next comes rough plumbing, when your plumbing contractor runs water supply and sewer lines. Bathtubs and shower pans are typically installed during rough plumbing since one-piece shower-and-tub units are so large and not easily maneuvered into place later.

Tubs are also notorious for being delivered slightly different than the size ordered, which makes installation very hard later in construction. A full tub is also heavy, so by installing and filling it, you help the frame settle more quickly, preventing wall and tile cracking once the tub is put into use.

Rough plumbing will normally include water supply lines for all fixtures and installation of sewer lines and vents.

Electrical rough in typically follows rough plumbing. Your electrical contractor will also install hardware such as electrical panels, lighting brackets, electrical outlets and junction boxes at this stage, leaving only the “finish” pieces such as cover plates, lighting fixtures and switches until the finishing phase.

Drywall is a big job, but your new home is starting to feel close to being complete!Insulation and Drywall

Next is insulation, which can include many types and installation methods. One typical type of insulation for walls is fiberglass rolls that are cut to length and installed between wall studs. You may also use spray-in cellulose insulation. These options should be determined ahead of time during planning so that the correct sequence can be determined.

From the exterior, your house now appears nearly complete! However, inside things are still pretty rough. Next up is drywall and then its time to begin finishing.

Drywall, also called sheetrock, is the most common type of interior wall product used in most homes. Although drywall sheets are only 1/2-inch thick, because they are made from gypsum, backed with paper, they are quite heavy and solid.

You can do drywall yourself if you have a strong back and a hoist! However, it is probably best to hire a professional crew since they can easily do the entire home in a day or two, depending on square footage and the complexity of your interior.

Congratulations! You have now completed rough construction and all that remains is the finishing phase.

Finishing Phase Steps:

  • Underlayment – Plywood sub-flooring is laid during initial framing and covered with tar paper or a vapor barrier (4-mil-thick plastic) and 5/8-inch particle board for most areas, or concrete wonderboard in areas like bathrooms where tile will be installed. Complete any remaining underlayment or subfloor work required before finish work begins.
  • HVAC – Your HVAC contractor will return to install heating and air conditioning equipment, vents and ductwork. In a home built on a slab foundation or in a two-story home, some of the ductwork needs to be installed between floors and inside walls. In a single-story home with a basement or crawl space, HVAC equipment and ductwork can be installed late in the project since it will be under the home.
  • Finish electrical – The electrician will return and install all light fixtures, wall outlets, switches and cover plates.
  • Kitchen and bathroom cabinets and counter tops – The cabinet installers must be scheduled to install all cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms. These will be aligned in place on walls and attached to wall studs with screws and then the counter tops screwed on top.
  • Finish plumbing – After cabinet installation, schedule your plumbing contractor to do finish work, installing remaining fixtures like sinks, toilets and faucets, as well as your water heater if it wasn’t part of the rough plumbing phase.
  • Paint, trim, flooring and other finishing details always take more time than expected.

  • Water and sewer hookups – Your home will need to be connected to municipal water and sewer lines. Usually this is done by your municipality or else your plumbing contractor. If public water and sewage lines are not available, you will need a private well and septic system. In this case you need to hire a well-drilling subcontractor and a septic-tank subcontractor.
  • Wall trim – Once the cabinets are in, the interior doors are installed and the molding around the doors, windows and baseboards goes in.
  • Paint – Once the molding is on, it is time to paint and wallpaper the interior of the house.
  • Carpeting, flooring and tile – Once the paint is done, carpet, wood flooring and tile can be installed. With some flooring products, you will want to install baseboard trim after rather than before the flooring.
  • The final punch list – At this point, the builder (in this case you!) inspects the house, noting any problems. All problems are tabulated on a punch list. The various contractors return to fix all of the problems. Be warned; this is typically an iterative process. Also, final inspection by your municipality’s building inspection department needs to be scheduled. Once the punch list is done, it’s time to move in!

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