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custom build as an owner builder

Heidi S.
5 days ago
Any and all advice for starting a new home build from others that have gone through the process. Mainly deciding on finishes and design, things you would of done differently. Also any advice on doing the new home build as an owner builder. Thanks in advance.

Comments (37)

  • dan1888

    The more research and prep you do to familiarize yourself with what it takes to actually do things right yourself the better you'll be at picking subs. And evaluating their work on site.

  • BT

    1) Bid out everything even if you are planing to do the work yourself

    2) Review your plans 1000 times.

    3) Do not use Menards lists or craigslist

    4) Obtain the demolition permit if applicable.

    5) Discuss the build with your neighbors after you get approved, it will be noisy for them.

    6) Review structural support and mechanical ductwork locations.

    7) DO NOT USE YOUR FAMILY OR FRIENDS if you want to keep them.

    8) Measure everything twice, correct/rework the foundation if improperly pureed not the entire house plan.

    9) Ask for concrete tickets, check slump #. For every gallon per yard of water added on the job, aggregate loses at least 200 psi in strength. If you add 20 gallons to a 10-yard load - 2 gallons per yard - you are probably losing 400 to 500 psi. High slump # + field added water = total cr@p foundation. Vibrate the foundation corners

    10) If a foundation wall longer > 20ft thicken it, dont leave it at 8".

    11) Buy your own windows and paint (too many paint cheats)

    12) Use engineered trusses and not stick built roofs...

    .. (many others)..

    Good luck with your project.

  • Candace
    Some small details....
    * If you are building a large 2 person shower, make sure the shower head(s) reach both people at once
    * Think about where you’ll charge your phone, tablet, etc. and put outlets with USB ports there
    * A pressure switch for the garbage disposal next to the faucet so you don’t have to reach across the counter with wet hands to turn it on/off
    * Cookie sheet separators in one of your cabinets
    * Read online reviews of your appliance choice before you buy them
    * If you’re putting in a gas fireplace, one that has multiple flame/blower settings is nice
    * In floor-radiant heat is wonderful - no dust flying around, and it’s so quiet (you don’t hear the heater kicking on all the time) - plus, you don’t have heat registers everywhere
    * Rocker light switches are really nice because you can turn them on/off with an elbow if you have your hands full

    Good luck on your build!
  • Heidi S.
    Thank you this is all very helpful!
  • worthy

    Unless you have extensive experience as a professional renovator, fugeddabout it.

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes

    In the construction business we have a saying "You pay for your education." The question is: how much are you willing to pay to be educated about how to build a single home? You're probably better off keeping your day job and hiring a professional to build your home.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    How many homes have you built previously? If the answer is less than five, there's some very good advice in the comments above.

  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    I'm assuming you're % cash or found that rare lender.

    Do this to emulate pros:

    Get the entire project specified and bid out to develop your budget.

    Understand that you will be dealing with 100+ categories of purchases of materials & subcontracts, where small variances in specs can add up to $100s of thousands. Some call them "extras" while others see them as "optional amenities".

    Keep your subs happy, informed and paid promptly, or they will charge you for every legitimate change and mistake you make. Clean the job weekly at a minimum, daily if you can.

    Also do this for a more successful DIY

    Put in a 20% contingency because you haven't done this before, then don't touch it until you're at least drywalled with 100% of selections made.

    Do not assume your budget can even meet a builder's total price.

    "Deals" and "discounts" from big box retailers are false savings, designed to lure you into a spiral of never ending purchases chasing that initial deal.


    This is a gauntlet that tests some. Make sure you understand the local permitting and impact fee process and total costs. Not knowing where you are, ask both the building department as well as builders about totals. Building departments aren't always very good at telling people about the other 20-30 items that might have to be paid in order to either issue or final a permit, because "its not their department". Some building departments are the central hub for collections, some are not. In my region (N CA) each municipality is different. Total permit & impact fees range from $50-80K. Understand if your parcel is a "finished lot" or an "undeveloped parcel" that needs utilities brought to it, etc.


  • kudzu9

    If you have never done anything like this before, I can just say that you are letting yourself in for a possibly painful and stressful experience that will go on for months (or years) and may result in a house that does not meet expectations. Any major build inevitably involves snags, problems, and delays, and you may not have the background to effectively handle all of them. I have been doing remodeling projects in my various homes for almost 40 years, and I started with small projects and worked my way up. My last major remodel doubled the size of the home, and I suspect I could effectively manage as owner-builder on a project like yours now...but I probably wouldn't.

    Just because I have built up my knowledge of the work processes involved and can wire, plumb, sheetrock, tile, and do rough and finish carpentry doesn't mean I think I would get the best result by tackling a big project as owner-builder.

    I'm trying to inject a note of reality, rather than trying to absolutely discourage you. I'm simply a counseling you to re-examine why you are considering doing this without, I suspect, a broad background in home construction. Is it to save money?...you might not. Is it because you like doing new things?...well it could be quite an adventure, and more than you want. Or are you truly handy, knowledgeable, and experienced in what to expect, and you just didn't communicate that when you posted?

  • Heidi S.
    Kudzu9, thank you for the dose of reality but when I decided to post on here, which was a mistake, I was simply looking for advice from people who have done the owner builder route, not the negative comments from others.
    I wasn’t very specific in saying that my husband is a project manager with a degree in construction management and actually proposed this idea to me.
    We aren’t actually building this home ourselves but he’d be acting as the general contractor. We haven’t decided if this is the best route for us either because he is busy with his full time job. We have interviewed builders as well.
    For the solid helpful advice I was given I am very appreciative. But I can honestly say I will never post on here again, it’s just a headache I don’t need to deal with.
  • lyfia

    If you do build either owner builder or with a builder there is very valuable experiences to get from here and there are some whose delivery is better than others, but don't discount the site because of the delivery. It may be useful to think through some of those as well even though you don't find it valuable in the end. I don't think anyone is trying to not help even though it may not be in the form someone wishes to read/hear it. Seems to me like you got some good advice and things to think through.

    I'm an experienced re-modeler which includes foundation and up, but I just don't have the energy to be my own GC. I know how much time and energy it takes and I will likely be micro-managing things anyways, but being able to put the responsibility somewhere else to follow through on it will be worth the extra cost to me of having a builder as well as having another person with experience to figure out solutions when something goes wrong. I also want to be working with a builder that will allow that sort of overseeing. Although I now have a couple of builders that have excellent references so maybe things will be smoother than my re-modeling experiences.

    My thoughts are plan and plan and plan again. The order, the subs (check references and be willing to wait for the good ones), the actual house plans. Check for functionality, Check and double check everything before it is too late. Measure everything during construction. Also consider the amount of time that both you and your husband will be spending on it and weigh it against the time you need with your family activities and work. You don't want work to suffer since it is part of your livelihood. This is the deal killer for me and also why I will be using a builder. Work would be suffering for me as I wouldn't let family time suffer and something would have to give since I also need to sleep. Also make sure that you have enough delays built into your time-line. There will be weather delays, sub delays, other delays etc. Also considering what back-up options you have ahead of time for everything that could possibly go wrong and what material substitutes you can live with ahead of time will keep delays at a minimum of the ones that you can control from your end.

  • Kirsten Eloise
    Tl; dr: focus on what goes behind the walls before the fun shiny things like fixtures and finishes.

    Hopefully you’re still checking comments even if the negativity has discouraged you from posting again! When we first started our new build (we’re designing a custom home through a company that flips/designs), everyone was focused on finishes and fixtures and all the fun things. Luckily, after spending a lot of time on Houzz and other blogs, I realized that no one was talking about what went BEHIND the walls, which is far more important because once it’s in, it’s in! Once I started asking questions about what was intended for things like the heating system (single vs. zoned), water heater (capacity matters because our master tub is HUGE), and lighting plan (low ceilings so we want mostly recessed), I realized that there were going to be additional costs to upgrade from the builder standards that hadn’t yet been considered. Luckily, because I insisted on identifying all costs at the outset, and I asked questions early, we were able to shift some money away from things we can do easily later (eg paint the exterior porch). Good luck if you decide to move forward with it!
  • DLM2000-GW

    I understand your frustration with this board swiatek - it takes a strong constitution sometimes. HOWEVER, don't abandon ship just yet. Try to pick out the helpful tidbits and reread the ones that seem least helpful a few times - odds are there is something in there you should hear as uncomfortable as it may sound.

    We did owner/builder, my DH had 25+ years in his own home remodeling business going into our build in 2015 and we STILL had more than what seemed to be our share of issues. If there are specific things you are wondering about I'm happy to give you our experience but it would take a small book to shotgun all aspects of our build and hope to hit info that is of use to you. Post here or message me if you prefer.

  • patriceny

    Please don't take this the wrong way, because I swear what I'm writing has zero intention to be considered a "shot" at you - but I'm concerned if you have the constitution to successfully handle an owner-build if the comments here have you this upset.

    I've had 2 homes built for me. The stress involved is pretty hard to fathom until you've lived it.

    I haven't seen anyone upthread be mean to you - they were just trying to give you some of the potential realities and pitfalls.

  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    There is good advice here for you and those who don't ask but will read. That's who this is also written.

    I wouldn't change my advice.

    I've built homes for several licensed contractors. Counting at least 10 split 50/50 between my father & myself. Several were repeats.

  • Architectrunnerguy

    But I can honestly say I will never post on here again, it’s just a headache I don’t need to deal with.

    I didn't think the advice was all that bad but one does have to have a thick skin for some of the stuff posted which I really didn't see much of that here. I've had probably 20 of my designs posted by owners and at times it's been rough as the commenters are seeing a snapshot of the end of the process and aren't seeing the compromises made to get there. Singlular comments have been "But where's the dog going to sleep" and "Where does a person hang up their bathrobe when taking a shower?" which, if THAT'S all that's wrong, we're in great shape!

    But back to your question, Mrs. ARG and I have acted as our own GC's for three builds over the last 25 years and if you do it, plan on it being basically a full time job that's going to effect significantly your other job(s). For example when the electrician wants to meet you to go over outlet locations, he's probably not going to want to do it on a Saturday or 6PM when you're off from work. And there's going to 100's of instances like that.

    But either way, GC'ing or hiring a builder, exciting times ahead! The best of luck and keep asking questions!

  • Heidi S.
    Jeffrey R. Grentz, my husband said he appreciates your input.
  • Heidi S.
    I’m sorry Jeffrey R. Grenz not Grentz
  • Heidi S.
    Thanks architectrunnerguy, yeah I agree with the thick skin thing, which believe it or not I have especially with my line of work. I just meant I didn’t need the headache from this little post asking questions. More like extra headache that’s not necessary on top of my day to day stuff. I’m 100% sure I can handle everything I’ll need to deal with once we start building and I’m confident in my husbands abilities too.
    I’d like to add I’ll share the good, bad and the ugly once we start and finish to hopefully help someone else out too. Whether we hire a contractor or do it as an owner builder, it’s happening and I’m not going to be scared away from it.
  • cpartist

    I'm not an owner/builder, just an owner who built my own custom design with a builder. However because we didn't choose our builder wisely (although we did vet him extensively - long story), I wound up working with the supervisor doing everything. (While our builder claims to be a custom 1 off builder, he had his supervisors working on 8-10 houses at a time. If I hadn't been there, my house would have been a disaster so I guess you can say I was an owner/builder) It was a full time job. I was there a minimum of once a day checking to make sure things were being done correctly, on time, etc. I was calling for supplies and then double checking to make sure they were following the drawings, etc

    Add to that all the hundreds of decisions that need to be decided even if you don't own/build and you can see that if you don't have the time to devote 4-6 hours a day, it would be best to find a really qualified builder. Hopefully better than the one I had.

  • Heidi S.
    CPartist, I’m so sorry that happened to you, I hope it all worked out in end.
    That’s very frustrating because it’s definitely not what you signed up for either.
  • cpartist

    Thanks swiatek. Yes it all still being worked out. If you have a large glass of wine and want to see the full saga including the finished pics, all the links are below although some stuff I did leave out as we are still trying to finish up.

    Honestly, just about everything in the house had to be redone 2 or more times. The sliders to the balcony, the AC had to be redone 3 or was it 4x (the last time after we moved in and ceilings had to be torn down and then retextured and repainted after they redid all the duct work because they did it wrong the first time so DH's study was 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the downstairs. The texturing and repainting took them an additional 3x which was a disruption).

    The pool had to be redug a second time, the kitchen window was the wrong size, and the floor in the living room wasn't level (They were off 1" in 17') which caused a 5+ month delay.

    They built the ceiling over the staircase 3" too low so it wasn't to code. That took them 2 or 3 tries to finally get correct.

    Additionally I paid top dollar for three slabs of expensive quartzite as a separate line item and the fabricator "broke" one slab and still refuses to pay us for the slab. (Additionally she supposedly broke it but the only pics she has to show us of it "broken" are of remnant rectangular pieces. I would think it it truly broke, there would be shards and more jagged pieces?)

    My outside railings are buckling because they used an Azek material instead of wood and we are in SW FL.

    Instead of using Hardie trim along the house, they again used an Azek type material so it wound up separating because you can't use Azek material with a dark paint color and I had chosen my paint colors (dark trim) even before the house was started.

    The builder is on his second or third painter trying to get my house finished being painted. The first crew would walk around without drop cloths and a dripping brush "touching" up the white semi- gloss which would make it flash.

    The windows were detailed at the wrong height upstairs and I finally caught it when we started to order windows. No one else caught it and if they had ordered the windows without catching it, it would have meant the windows would have been hitting the tops of the roof on the first floor.

    They forgot to put insulation behind the medicine cabinets so in the summertime the interior of the medicine cabinets reach a temp in the 90's.

    My doors on the first floor are not a full 8' high because they put the windows on the first floor 2" lower than 8' so to make my hatband trim work, they had to cut my doors down which made my door handles barely high enough.

    And there's more in my threads. We started our adventure in March of 2015, moved in April 2018, got our CO January 2019, and they're still finishing up stuff now 4 years later.

    And this was a fully custom and high end home. Building is not for the faint of heart:

    Please Critique our house

    Almost Final Plans

    Which of These Look More Craftsman (answer: NONE!)

    Which of these craftsman choices

    New elevations, please review

    Redone Plans because of the zoning board

    Moving the W/D out of the foyer (One of my dumb ideas I was talked out of.)

    These are my plans finally (hahaha)

    Trying to rework my master suite

    Rethinking my upstairs

    The continuing saga (This is after we purchased an additional 1/2 lot)

    Architects, need help

    Just when you thought my saga was over

    Which Porch do you prefer

    Absolute Final Plans

    Finished House

    Finished Kitchen

  • Heidi S.
    CP artist, Ive only looked at your final house pictures so far but it looks gorgeous! Wow and I can’t even fathom what you went through building this home!
    I will definitely keep you updated on my build.
  • Suzanne
    My custom home build has had some of the same issues. Custom home builder, building a one off. Multiple electrical issues not to plan. For example, wiring for a double oven (one 50 amp circuit) instead of 2 single ovens installed in one cabinet. All on the plan but missed by electricians and supervisor. Low voltage wiring would have been completely wrong if I was not there. “That’s how we always do it”, no do it to the plan. Concrete needed to be broken up to fix plumbing drains not to plan. So I go up to the Constuction site every day and then coordinate everything getting fixed. Still very happy with my builder and supervisor, just the way it is. Actually my husband is having a good time being an unpaid assistant supervisor.
  • kudzu9


    I suspect if you had included in your original post that you and your husband have the background to take this on, I think you would have gotten different responses. I'm not faulting you for this, but I do want to explain something. I have been on this web site for years and posted literally 1000's of times, usually answering questions, but sometimes asking them. While you have been turned off by discouraging comments, I can tell you that almost all of the posters were trying to be helpful: we have seen people post here with seemingly simple questions in the past and their lack of knowledge and the likelihood of getting in over their heads was apparent. Yours seemed to initially fall into that category. People here do try to be genuinely helpful, but sometimes being helpful means educating neophytes on what can happen if their desires exceed their knowledge and skill level. If you re-read your initial post from that perspective, maybe you'll understand why, lacking further info, many of us made the assumptions we did.

    I understand this is your first post here, but I hope it isn't your last. And I hope your project goes well and that you will be able to share your experience with this forum as you progress. That would be both interesting as well as helpful to others who are considering doing what you want to do and are unsure about what's involved.

    Good luck.

  • cpartist

    CP artist, Ive only looked at your final house pictures so far but it looks gorgeous!

    Thank you. It is finally living how we expected and we do love it. Great passive solar heating/cooling. Wonderful indoor/outdoor relationship. Love my kitchen, studio, etc.

    Kudzu brings up a good point. So many people come here for the first time and ask a question like yours and when we delve further, we find out the person hasn't even had experience doing minor repairs to a house and even before starting with a plan are in over their heads. Obviously, you and your husband are not because of your backgrounds.

    When I first came here, I came with the idea that most people did want to be helpful and because of their help, my house truly is a wonderful place to live. Haven't seen Mushcreek in a while, but he's built his own house from the ground up including designing it himself. You might want to message him.

    Also as DLM said, she and her hubby were owner/builders so I'd certainly take her up on her suggestion. I will say she's helped me quite a few times as well as the architects on this forum and of course lots of the lay folks. We who hang out here tend to be house geeks.

  • Heidi S.
    I really appreciate this, I tried to edit my initial posting as It was rather vague and I did it in haste.Maybe I’ll try on a desktop.
    Anyway, I’d be happy to share whatever I can as we move forward. I wasn’t upset as much as I was shocked, but after reading through every helpful piece of advice offered, I know now what to expect. I apologize if my post to you was in poor taste, if you knew me you’d know that’s not my character.
  • cpartist

    Swiatek, please don't worry. Also know that your initial posts cannot be edited after 30 minutes. Any posts you make below the initial post can be edited for I believe 30 days.

  • kudzu9


    No problem with your original post being in "poor taste"...you just didn't have the context to understand what this forum was like, and I just wanted to explain and encourage you to not go away. :-)

  • Cyndy

    Swiatek - owner/builder here, although we did hire a builder to get us to dry-in. For the most part after that we have hired trades directly or done the work ourselves. It is easily my full time job and I feel better at it some days than others. We have the benefit of some really generous people around here for advice, supervision and in some cases loans of great crews. We have made mistakes based on ignorance, but so far they haven't been costly ones. We also have the huge benefit of a very small town with an inspector who I call and ask questions any time I need. My building permit took an hour of consulting and going over all the details, and 20 min to fill out the paperwork. I am thankful we live where we do.

  • Candace
    CPArtist - wow, so sorry you had that experience building! The end result is beautiful, though! We live in the mountains of CO and had a fantastic architect (Bryan Adams - APEX Architecture out of Steamboat Springs) and Big Valley Construction (Granby CO) built our mountain modern home. We also had the challenge of living in TX while the home was built - Big Valley’s on site manager (Greg Gardner - WONDERFUL) took pictures at least 3 days a week and posted them to Builder Trend so we could monitor the progress long distance. We did find a couple “oddities” that were fixed ASAP - thank goodness for the pictures! We visited the build site (sometimes unannounced) and every time it was spotless - the subs continually swept everything up and kept it clean. We had very few issues, and nothing that wasn’t fixed immediately! Hopefully more people have good experiences than bad!!
  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    @Cyndy "It is easily my full time job" <==== says an owner builder

    That is a great observation from an owner builder. Even new contractors, both GCs and trade contractors underestimate the time it takes (to do it right).

  • robin0919

    Heidi.....make SURE you get GC pricing otherwise you will be paying as if you hired a GC to build. Typically, GC pricing is approx 40-50% less than consumer price for subs, framing, elect, plumb, painting..etc. The ONLY way you are going to save money. I know this as a fact in this area.

  • cpartist

    Robin knows no things as facts. Everything he posts are his opinions

  • millworkman

    40-50%? Where and how do make this crap up?

  • kudzu9

    If discounts like that were available, everyone would become a GC... ;-)

  • PRO
    RES 3d Sketches

    You will get better answers if you ask better questions. Your question implied you had never managed a construction project before which is a common situation on the forum but you omitted a very important piece of information.

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