For most people in the world, the cost of a home will be their single biggest investment. It can be staggering for all but the filthy rich (may all their homes be infested with bed bugs and roaches). Building your own home does not seem to be a lot cheaper, but at least you get the home you want.
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Here is a list of things that you may need to figure into your
. These are things that I remember from when we started building. I encourage other people to add a comment about building costs that I missed. I also add advice on what you can do to save money and I greatly encourage everyone to add comments on ways to save.
So here we go.
The True Cost of Building List:
- Blue Prints: You can do them yourself with good drawing software. It may be best to do some preliminary drawings and have a designer do the blue prints from your drawings. This may be a requirement in areas that have building codes (see #3 under “Saving money from the start” below). If you must pull permits, you will need blue prints with a licensed engineers stamp on them. This means you must find a licensed engineer to evaluate your design. A good designer can help here. They know what needs to go into the design and they should know an engineer that will give you a stamp. In addition, you will need several copies of the prints for the authorities issuing the permits. If you have big bucks, you can hire an architect to do all the design and engineering.
- The Learning Curve: If you plan to do some or most of the work yourself, you will need to learn how to do the work. Books, videos, the internet, this web site, and some hands on training are all great learning tools. Just figure the cost into the process and learn as much as you can before you start building .
- Contractors: You can try to do all of the construction yourself. There are designs for small homes that will let you do this. However, most people will need to hire a contractor for some task. And most people would rather have their teeth pulled then deal with a contractor. But trust me; there are good, honest, hard working contractors out there (and a lot of crocks and morons). The trick is to find them and have a good contract they can follow (that’s why they call them contractors). A good General Contractor will do the whole job for you. See the Page on “Contractors” for more help.
- Engineer Reports: You my need a soil test. If you are doing a septic system, an engineer will do a Perk Test and design the system. There may be more engineering for your area.
- Tools: The tools you will need will depend on how much work you will be doing yourself. Buy good tools. Cheap tools will work poorly right up to the point they break, which will be sooner then later. Good tools are not cheap. You will need good hand tools and battery powered tools. Beyond these, you will need to make decisions weather to buy a specific tool or machine, or hire a contractor to do the work. See the “TOOLS” Page for more information.
- Stuff Storage: If you are going to move to your new home site, you will need to store all your “stuff” while you build. See #5 below in “Saving money from the start” to save some money.
- Normal Expenses: You will still need to pay for food, taxes, transportation, and other bills while building. Assure you have enough in savings to cover expenses. If you’re savings are short, you may need a job. This is fine if you hire contractors to do most of the construction. Trying to handle both job and construction at the same time will extend the project and cost more, but may be required.
- Roads: When you are looking for land to build on, think about how far it is from public road access. You will need to build a road from the public road access to your new home. This can be very expensive. If you just clear some trees and brush to drive in, come the rainy season you will have mud and no road. Also, make sure you have legal and guaranteed access before you start building a road across someone else’s land. The laws are different on access for every state, so check with authorities where you are building. Check out the Page “Roads, Access, and Utilities” even before you buy land or a site.
- Utilities: It is possible to have NO utilities. It just depends on you. Solar, rainwater catchment, and other beneficial life style changes can free you of the utility companies. However, if you must connect to one or more of the utilities, be ready to pay. It’s not just the monthly bills. Running the utilities is a huge cost (along with road construction). You may have to pay a tap fee that can be more then the actual installation. Run the utilities at the same time you build the road. This is a big money saver and a “No Brainer”.
- Heath Care: This is not much different then any other times in your life, except you’re chances of injury are greater while building. Make sure you have some kind of coverage. This is no big deal if you live in one of the advanced countries that have national coverage. However, in the USA if you are seriously injured and have no coverage, you could spend the rest of your life living on the streets after the medical system takes all you own. It’s “Free Enterprise” and it happens every day in America.
- The Weather: If there is heavy snow, do you have a plan for getting in and out? Do you need four wheel drive and high ground clearance? In some areas, the problem may be heavy rain. Plan for what the weather may bring.
- Material and Labor: This will change with every home and every site. There are hundreds of thousand of parts that go into a home. Look through this web site to get an idea what parts you may need and how you might save on them. Some good advice is to think small, insulate to the max, use solar, and do not get too complex.
This will give you some things to think over. I will add more as time permits. Leave a comment if you have a question or want to add to this list.
Saving money from the start.
- The Home Design: Designing your home is the fun part. You can do it with paper and pencil or if you look on the internet, you can find home design software cheap (even some free shareware and open source stuff). This is where you get to build the home of your dreams. However, one point I want to make at the start… THINK SMALL AND SIMPLE . Trust me, you will be a lot happier.
- The THINK SMALL part: As we all know, there will always be people that must have a huge McMansion, or two, or three. Some people are wealthy enough to create an alternative reality, a reality the rest of the world pays for. However, I have known many good, normal people that build a larger home then they really needed and have regretted it. Most felt that it was too much to keep up with and the money they spent could have gone for something more practical or enjoyable. So here are some reasons to build small:
- Obviously, the cost of material and labor will be less. Around 2005 China started an unimaginable building boom. This drove the price of building materials through the roof. In addition, the cost of labor will be less due to the fact it takes less time to build a smaller home. Shipping and delivery cost will be less too.
- The high cost of gas and electric. Propane in this area is running over $4 a gallon. A large home will use 1,000 gallons or more a year. You do the math. I know of one home up here that is so large it uses 1,000 gallons a month… and no one has ever lived in it. It’s for sale if you’re interested. Therefore, smaller home, less material and labor, more money for insulation, less spent on utilities.
- Solar cost will be far less for a small home. If you were not even considering solar, you are on the wrong web site. Only a fool would not consider solar for a home. It works and it’s mainstream today. Smaller home, less material and labor, more money for insulation, more money for passive solar design, less spent for active solar systems, and less spent on utilities.
- The cost of permits is less for smaller homes. Most Building Departments charge by the square foot for Building Permits. In addition, utility tap fees can be more for larger homes.
- If you build a smaller home, you will be happier because you do not end up being the “ jerks down the road that built the big, ugly, monstrosity just to show off their money and compensate for inadequacies and have no regard for their neighbors, the environment, or the future of mankind. It’s all about them, them, them. ”. Sorry… got off track there.
Build in an area that has no Building Department or building codes. This will save a huge amount of money. These areas do exist in the USA. Go to
to find out what counties in Colorado have no building codes, and thus no huge permit cost. Check with other states to find these code free areas. A conglomeration of federal, state, and local governments run the permit process. Be assured it’s one big, expensive, screwed up mess. Moreover, it’s not just one single “Building Permit”. Where I live, we have a permit for the building permit. They call it a “Land Use Permit”. It alone was $3200, almost as much as the Building Permit. Here is a list of permits that I had to deal with:
- Building Permit
- Land Use Permit
- Road and Driveway Permit
- Septic Permit
- Electrical Permit
- Plumbing Permit
- Mechanical Systems Permit
- Permit to carry a concealed permit (OK, this is not a real permit. However, you are required to have your permits and a stamped set of blue prints posted on the building site.)
If anyone knows of other permit requirements, please tell us in a comment.
- If you own a home and can afford to live there while you build, you’re set. If you need to relocate, or sell to pay for construction, you will need to consider living accommodations. Add in the cost of temporary housing. We built a small cabin behind the home site (200sq.ft.). This is something we can use after we finish our home, but it is money and time taken away from construction.
- If you move out of your current residence, you must deal with all your stuff. Add in cost of storing your stuff while you build. Alternatively, save money by selling most of your stuff. This can be very hard for people. However, just consider what you could do with the money from selling your stuff combined with the storage cost you’re saving. Consider too that the longer your stuff stays in storage the greater the chance of ruin by rodents, water, or other factors. Just don’t sell your tools; you’ll need them.
These are just a few things to think about and a few ways to save money when you are just getting started. I’ll add more later on. Feel free to leave a comment on other ways to save money.