So you want to build your own home?

What homeowner, over the years, hasn't considered this? Even those of us who have bought fully remodeled homes, come to see over time the little nuances of finish quality or floor plan that we would do differently if we were to do it ourselves ... the kitchen really needed a walk-in pantry, or the formal living room that seemed like such a great idea when you bought the home now feels like a waste of space. The list goes on.

Building is a great idea. Right up there with quitting your day job to take up writing or glass blowing, it's fraught with just about as much risk and unforeseen challenges. I know because I tried it. Almost 20 years ago, after losing a house we wanted desperately with sweeping view of Mt. Rose, we chanced upon a lot for sale on the same street in the Tahoe Donner neighborhood of Truckee. It was the end of December, and the dirt itself was invisible, covered by more than 10 feet of snow. It was billed as a "down sloping" lot; huge understatement. With what I learned to be a 41% grade, it was more like an intermediate ski hill. There was no way of knowing what we were buying, no way of knowing the daily challenges of building your own home (which, in hindsight, was a good thing, because we would not have otherwise done it.)

That was December of 2007. Two years and many, many days of dawn to dusk later, we had a home on that ski hill that was more beautiful than anything we had seen in our price range. Many lessons were learned in the process. I came away knowing how to frame a true-radius arch (including a graduated radius arch that made a regular old pocket door look amazing). I learned that the worst mistakes of planning and rough framing can be hidden with lumber and mud. (Lumber, labor and money can fix almost anything.)

Many aspects of building became crystal clear along the way ... when it comes to an error in measurement, lumber is more forgiving than steel ... dynamite can create more problems than it solves ... if you don't have a crew, you need to scrap out the house yourself every day ... if the finish lumber needs to be prepped for the carpenter, that's your job too ... if you don't have a general contractor, mistakes are always your fault ... sub-contractors rarely start (or finish) on time, and scheduling takes almost as much time every day as doing the work yourself ... homes on downslopes need a sewage pump, and neither the pumphouse nor the trenching for the piping is the responsibility of the plumber ... (guess who does this)?  Same person who digs out the box when the flapper valve fails, and what should be going up to the sewage lateral is now coming down en masse. (Lesson learned: invest in a stainless steel flapper valve.)

A good architect is the foundation of a good home, but the drawings are only the tip of the iceberg. Engineering, permits, approvals, and building inspections are complicated, and mistakes are invariably costly.

My son was a toddler at the time, and I was at the construction site working literally every day. Would I do it again today? Probably not. I would definitely consider building again, but I'd enlist the help of solid contractors with a proven track record who are committed to seeing the job through to its conclusion.

If you are considering building your dream home, feel free to call me for references!  ~ Jackie

Posted by Jackie Ginley on


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