It should come as no surprise that building a home is a significant undertaking.
Once you’ve decided on the path of new construction, a crucial decision you'll face is whether to manage the build yourself (known as owner-building, or self-building) project or hire a general contractor to bring your vision to life. Both options have their merits and challenges, and the choice depends on your attention to detail, resources, problem solving ability, physical ability, and comfort level with learning new skills.
In this blog post, we'll lay out the key considerations for deciding whether to build your own house or enlist the expertise of a professional general contractor.
Deciding whether to build your own house is highly personal:
Consider the following factors:
- Prior Skills and Experience: Assess your construction skills and experience honestly. Think about what aspects of the project you would be willing to tackle, and what you will need to hire a subcontractor for. Projects like pouring a large concrete slab or framing a complex roof are not one-person jobs, and you will likely have to hire some labor.
Interest in Learning: Building a house requires a wide range of skills and knowledge that spans dozens of specialized trades. However, thanks to the internet, very few of these skills can’t be learned to the extent you need them for your project. With a will to learn and great attention to detail, someone with no prior experience can perform most trades - just don’t expect to do it quickly or efficiently.
Even if you are hiring the task out, you will greatly benefit from learning the technical details of how the work should be performed, to better assess the work of the subcontractor.
- Time and Energy Commitment: Determine the time you can dedicate to the project. An owner-build demands a lot of time, physical, and mental effort, which may impact other commitments and relationships in your life.
- Physical Ability: Physical strength, stamina, and dexterity are required in virtually every aspect of homebuilding. Every item lifted, screw driven, package opened, and broom sweep requires labor. Even the task of procuring and transporting materials requires physical labor that adds up substantially over the course of a project.
Budget and Resources: Evaluate your current savings and cash flow. Building your own house may save money on labor costs, but it can also be costly if mistakes are made. You can also save money on procuring your own material -- consider procuring materials yourself and hiring out labor! You'll need to make sure your contractor is OK with you purchasing the materials in advance.
Note that some banks are unwilling to issue loans to owner-builders without substantial negotiation or collateral. Saving up for the build and financing it yourself (building debt-free) is difficult, but offers the most flexibility in timeline when going the owner-builder route.
Risk Tolerance: Evaluate your tolerance for potential risks and challenges associated with a DIY project. You will inevitably be required to solve a lot of problems that arise during construction, both in physical build details but also in material selection and procurement. A general contractor can help mitigate risks and navigate unexpected issues more efficiently.
- Desire for Creative Control: Reflect on how much creative control you want over the project. Owner-building allows for complete customization, while a general contractor may have limitations based on their expertise and available resources.
Benefits of Building Your Own Home:
1. Creative Control:
One of the most compelling reasons to build your own house is the unparalleled creative control it offers. From the architectural design to selecting every material and detail, you have the freedom to bring your vision to reality without compromise. This level of customization allows for a truly unique and personalized living space.
On the other hand, this amount of control can also lead to decision overload and mental burden - you'll find yourself making decisions such as:
- Locating each electrical recepticle (height & distance from door openings)
- Width of Hallway
- Exact location of fixtures
- Window specifications (U-value and sizing)
- Exterior flashing details
- Window trim size and details
and the list goes on and on...
2. Cost Savings:
Building your own house can potentially save money, especially if you're skilled in various construction trades. By performing tasks yourself, you can cut labor costs. Additionally, you have the flexibility to choose cost-effective materials and work within your budget, or use the budget saved by performing your own labor to purchase the best materials possible. The latter route is the way we went in our personal home build.
3. Sense of Accomplishment:
Completing a DIY house build is an immensely gratifying experience. The sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing you built your own home can be unmatched, making it a genuinely rewarding journey. The skills, experience, and confidence gained from undertaking this project will be with you for life.
4. Quality Control:
Self-building provides a unique opportunity for meticulous quality control throughout every stage of the construction process. As the sole decision-maker, you have complete oversight of the materials, workmanship, and attention to detail. You can handpick high-quality materials, ensuring that only the best components are used in your home. Your direct involvement in the construction allows you to closely monitor the work of subcontractors, ensuring that each task meets your standards. This level of control can create a home that not only reflects your design vision, but also exceeds standards of construction and durability (code minimum), which will result in a more comfortable, durable, and efficient living space.
Benefits of Hiring a General Contractor (builder):
1. Professional Expertise:
A reputable general contractor brings years of experience and expertise to the table. They have a deep understanding of the construction process, local building codes, and best practices. This experience helps to ensure the project is completed within the timeline and budget agreed upon. However, understand that there may be less flexibility in a desired construction method or finish that the builder may be unfamiliar with.
2. Time and Convenience:
Building a house is a time-consuming endeavor, and managing a project of this magnitude can be overwhelming. Hiring a general contractor allows you to focus on other aspects of your life while the professionals handle the construction process, saving you time and stress.
3. Access to Networks:
Established general contractors have well-established networks of subcontractors and suppliers. This can lead to cost savings on materials and faster completion times due to their ability to secure the best resources for the project. However, any cost savings are generally not realized by the client after the builder places their management fee atop the expense (typically 20% or more).
4. Risk Management:
A general contractor assumes responsibility for coordinating various aspects of the build, reducing the risk of mistakes, delays, and cost overruns. They have insurance to cover potential damages, providing you with peace of mind.
Choosing the Right Path:
The decision to build your own house or hire a general contractor hinges on your skills, resources, learning ability, time, and comfort level with managing a complex construction project.
If you have the necessary skills and are willing to invest time and effort, a DIY approach can be immensely rewarding. However, if you prioritize professional expertise, time efficiency, and risk management, enlisting a general contractor may be the ideal choice.
Whichever path you choose, remember that building a home is a transformative experience. It will take time, patience, and likely the largest monetary investment of your life, but you can create a living space that perfectly reflects your vision and lifestyle!