So You Want to Build Your Own House But...

Do You Have What it Takes to Build Your Own House?

At this point in our lives, almost incredibly, Shawn and I have built four houses together, plus a tiny house on wheels and a pretty gucci garage that we lump together and call a “house” worth of work. It had to start somewhere, and people sometimes ask us about our beginnings, since we aren’t contractors but love to build.

We started our “building career” by building a tiny chicken house in our backyard. BTW, that chicken house failed “inspection” by the young girl we were buying our chickens from. She took a look at it and with the worldly wisdom of an eight year old with lots of chicken raising experience pronounced it too small for comfortable chicken habitation. It’s the only building inspection we’ve ever flunked! We re-built it. True story. We also built a couple of small and mid sized outbuildings before thinking that we could absolutely build a house. A carpenter gave us a tutorial on one of the outbuildings and we’d learned plenty about remodeling, framing and basic structure while bringing our first house up to standards.

If anyone were to ask what I think made us succeed in our building endeavors, I’d list the following. We are self motivated and autodidactic, not afraid to ask lots of questions, largely humble, fairly patient, will go back and fix our mistakes even when it’s irritating to do so, and are willing to read plenty from the library or online to increase our knowledge. This particular cocktail of traits, I think, have been valuable assets in becoming successful at building. Add into that the mix our love of hard work, being outside and being self directed and it’s a good recipe.

A small collection of decent tools will also help whether purchased, borrowed or rented. It’s easy to get caught up in the marketing, but attention to detail makes you a good builder, not owning every tool under the sun. Our first two and a half homes were hand spiked…we didn’t get a pneumatic nailer till the Island House build. That isn’t to suggest that some tools won’t make your life easier, only to say, don’t feel you need a house sized budget for tool purchases in order to build.

What Does “I’m Building My Own House” Mean to You?

tiny house interior view.jpg

What else should you consider before undertaking a build? Well, consider how you define the process to start. To elucidate…after we built for the first time, we met lots of people who had done the same, to varying degrees. By this I mean that we met some people for whom “building their own home” meant hiring a GC and paying all the bills…no more and no less. This approach doesn’t eliminate the stresses or thrills of the build, so if that’s your definition, don’t be shy about it. Hiring a construction firm, a GC or even undertaking to be your own GC are all viable approaches to building and might be your best bet, especially if you aren’t technical, confident or flush with time. This approach also works well if you’ve got more money than time. A crew will work efficiently and effectively and will sometimes also make allowances for people who want, for example, a home framed and closed in for them and to take over the finishing work. There’s a rainbow of options out there. So if you are a skilled tile worker or want to do your own painting, flooring, or what have you…you can opt to just take on this part of the job and will still have put some sweat and hard work into building your own home.

I think this is fairly obvious, but I mention it because sometimes people approach home building as though only skilled tradespeople or absolute DIYers can build homes. It was an astonishing insight to me when, halfway through our first ever build, it occurred to me that Shawn and I were just doing the thing that humans have been doing since the beginning of our times…providing ourselves shelter against the elements. A cave or a sod home, a pitched tent or a 5,000 square foot palace…these are all iterations of our need to have shelter from the storms, built with varying degrees of skill. The reason this little thought was so empowering to me, though, is that it enabled me to see that the desire to build, the ability to build, is something all humans have. We can hone our works by learning specialized skills or following the requirements for our areas, but the ability and need to provide ourselves with shelter is already there..

Which leads me to wind up this casually thoughtful blog post…what you need most to build your own house, however hands on about it you choose to be, is the impetus and motivation. It takes some money, but not necessarily a colossal budget. You can (and really should) allow your budget of money, time, materials and skill to help shape your project. Allowing this to happen will go a ways toward ensuring a build without crazy stress on your shoulders (because building also has this aspect to it). If you can conceive of the project from start to finish from there you can get a bead on costs and projected time to completion.

The Answer is Always Yes

There’s no one size fits all answer to whether or not you can build your own house. The answer is always yes in the sense that there’s a way for any project to be done. At one end of the spectrum, money will suffice to do the whole thing without lifting a finger. At the other end of the spectrum, if you can find a place to build, you can take as long as you need with some consideration and do all the work yourself for the least amount of money. It’s a choose your own adventure sort of thing and if the bug stays with you long enough, you’ll probably chart your home building path sooner or later!