For most of my adult life I had thought about someday building my Dream Home. Several years ago I finally got the chance. I had purchased a lake front lot with a small cottage on it. My initial intention was to use the property “as is”, and someday raze the old cottage and build a new home in its place. After a couple of weekends in the musty old camp I came to the conclusion that I needed to speed up my timetable.
Part of the dream in building my own home was to act as the General Contractor and to personally supply a great deal of sweat equity. I accomplished both of these goals, however it was not easy. There were many roadblocks and bends in the road along the way. In the subsequent parts of this chronology, I will review my experiences in hopes that others may gain from my experiences.
Determining the Home Style and Size
After making the decision to raze the cottage and build a new home, I had to first determine what type and size of home to build. My lot was limited in size and required careful planning to ensure that I would meet all of the setbacks governed by the town I lived in. Although I had these concerns, I decided to forgo the Architect route. I deemed it too expensive and probably not necessary for the style of home I wanted to build. Instead I picked up a handful of Home Plan magazines and surfed the internet for home designs. I also picked up an inexpensive software package for designing homes and floorplans. After a week of reviewing home plans, I found one that met most of my requirements in terms of a floorplan. The footprint was smaller than I wanted, but I concluded that I could redraw the floor plan accordingly using my newly purchased Home Design Software Package.
The Home Design Software package was not as simple to use as the instruction manual implied, however after a couple of weeks I had a floorplan with all the dimensional information.
Assuming the role as the General Contractor
As I had indicated earlier, one of my goals was to assume the role as General Contractor on this project. I quickly learned that banks frown upon lending construction mortgages to everyday homeowners and to folks who have little professional building experience. I got around this issue by deciding not to use the banks for financing. However, from what I learned later, it may have been possible for me to assume a construction mortgage if I had quit my day job and applied for the loan as a “full time General Contractor”. Indeed, I would have needed to complete a full proposal to the bank with all costs and subcontractors identified, but this is necessary anyways.
As the General Contractor I developed a build schedule and task list. Some of the top items included: Identifying subcontractors, pulling permits, and having a septic design approved.
Carefully Pick your Sub-Contractors
Identifying the right subcontractors is the most important task a General Contractor performs. Poor selection of subcontractors can lead to delays in schedules, cost overruns, poor workmanship and strife between the various subcontractors on the job. Prior to hiring subcontractors, it is important to visit their current jobsites. Review their work on existing jobsites and mingle with the other subs to judge the working relationship. In addition get two or three reference checks on the subcontractors. If there are poor workmanship, personality issues, or references move on. Do not settle for second rate subs, even if it means slipping your schedule or costs goals, as you will more than likely suffer even larger schedule slips or higher costs by hiring the wrong people.
Once you have selected and hired your excavator, chief framer, and foundation company, review with them your plans. Make sure you walk the site with them, and carefully stake out the house footprint, paying careful attention to lot setbacks, septic tanks, leach fields and well location. Once all are agreed upon with the house plans and the location of the home, contact the building inspector and review with him/her your plans. You will need to submit a very thorough package to the building inspector prior to getting approval. There are frequently town and state forms that need to be filled out regarding wetlands, and home thermal analysis. In addition, detailed engineering drawings of the proposed home may be required. In my case the Framer was able to assist in developing additional sketches of the house plan to ensure structural compliance to local, state and federal building codes. If I had used the initial home plans I had obtained, those would have been sufficient. I also could have contacted an architect with my selected plans to provide additional details, however it was not necessary in my case.
After about a week and several hundred dollars later I had the permit to build a new home.
My home required its own septic system on site. As a result, I required a septic design and an associated permit for the new home. I recommend pursuing this as early as possible in any new home project as this can take up to 2-3 months to complete as both town and state approvals are required, not to mention site and engineering work.
Without knowing exactly where the septic system and tank will reside, it may be difficult to locate the exact position of the home and in many cases the building inspector may not approve the building permit until the septic design permit has been obtained. I was fortunate in that the property already had a small septic system on the lot, so the building inspector gave me approval. I was at financial risk, however, in the event the new septic design was not approved or needed to be repositioned from the proposed location. Fortunately that was not the case and I was able to move forward on razing the cottage and beginning site work.
To Be Continued ….
In Part 2 of “Building Your Dream House”, I will cover razing an existing building, performing site prep work, and pouring foundation walls. Stay tuned…
Over the past 20+ years Mr. Donovan has been involved with building homes and additions to homes. His projects have included: building a vacation home, building additions and garages on to existing homes, and finishing unfinished homes. Mr. Donovan's formal education and profession have been as an Electrical Engineer and Marketing Manager.
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