Adventures in How to Build Your Own Home
Like most people, my wife and I always wanted that ideal house in which to raise our kids. Being raised on a ranch and accustomed to hard work, I put forth the idea to build our own house so we could get more of what we wanted. I had some building experience, and being an engineer, I decided to just go ahead and build everything myself. My wife would stay with her mother in the next town until I got it setup enough to move her and the kids out to live on our new spread.
Make a Plan
Depending on where you are building, you will need to make a plan on how to proceed based on what you can do yourself and what you are going to contract out. My initial plan was this:
- Determine the layout of the land and the house. Where was I going to put the house, barn, road, septic system, well, etc. The initial plan was to have a ranch-style house with a nice front yard. In the back would be the barn and pasture area with a shop on the side. Inside would be all the little things such as radiant heat, stone floors, etc.
- What permits to get. You will need to get permits from the local authorities. When I did mine in rural Montana, all I needed to get was the electrical permit and the septic system approval. Some areas require additional permits and plans depending on the neighborhood or city. The initial plan was to have a ranch style house with a two story barn.
- How much to do yourself. Being that I was building the whole thing by myself in my spare time after work, I would only be contracting out drilling the well and pouring the concrete. I had a loader/backhoe that I could use to do all the dirt work and I was set to go.
I decided to build the barn first so I would have a place to put materials if the weather got bad and also have a base of operations.
We set up the plan so we could finance everything and have enough work equity so there would be little down payment needed. We got the permits and started building. Building the barn went well and at that point, all the plans started changing. It was just prior to 9/11 and building materials were inexpensive. However, China’s economy suddenly went into high gear, we had 9/11, and shortly after we had both the Iraq and Afghan wars going on overseas. The price of building materials tripled or quadrupled in a short time (so now we couldn’t afford to build the house) and the initial 750 ft well that was drilled for a water supply initially appeared to be a dry well.
There was two choices, adapt the plan or cry and give up. I chose to adapt everything. I studied the local well logs and had the driller perforate the pipe at 170 to 210 feet and now had a well that produced 1 gallon/minute. To improve this, I put in a pump that ran at .7 gpm. This helped wash out the fines (clay and silt) so the well eventually turned into a 10 gpm well. We changed the barn into a 4 bedroom two story Dutch Colonial style house and made smaller sheds for the animals. However a tornado came through and destroyed both sheds but left the house alone.
Know Your Limits
Ten years later, the house is nice with the radiant heat, the lights and cabinets the way we want them. Plus, now I know how to build, wire, do plumbing, and repair just about anything. The many adventures I ran into and skills I learned could probably fill a book. Plus it took way longer (18 months) to build something by myself than I thought it would. Bottom line: would I do it again? Sure, but the next time I would skip the wars, the tornado, and maybe contract out a bit more of the work. I would also need to adjust the worst case scenario. The hardest part would be talking my wife into doing it again.