TLDR || We spent 3 years and built a house on raw land. We did 95% of the work ourselves. We loved it and we’re doing it again right now. It’s not for everyone. It’s complicated and stressful but the results are pretty radical dude.
Why I wrote these words || Someone at work asked the home owners list a few weeks ago “I’m thinking about building a house. If you’ve built one what was your experience?” I responded a few times to the thread, then decided to write some more.
A bunch of words and stuff and junk
The simple answer is, we enjoyed it and we’re doing it again. We’ve been developing land and constructing the house we live in for slightly more than four years now. We’re about to embark the journey of adding on to the house with an additional 40×60 structure. It’s not a simple process, nor is it a cut and dry process where any one person’s views and opinions are relevant to others. The process Michelle and I went through, and the resulting house we live in are not the normal process or house. Banks have called our house non-conforming and people have called us nuts for living in a fifth wheel with 3 kids building a house. The process was part of the adventure and experience for us and always will be part of our home and our family history. We can sit in the house and look at the walls and recall how we built them, and say “I built that”
My day job involves fixing emails. When I accomplish something and solve a high impacting ticket some person 100’s of miles from me can now book a meeting on his smart phone. The results of my labors are disconnected from me physically, and they don’t feel like they exist in the real world. At end of a hard day working on the house you can see the object you’ve created and the changes you’ve made happen. You can feel and touch the changes and you can feel the pain in your body resulting from the physical, emotional and mental effort; it’s a good pain.
Our dreams, and goals, and the path we took to accomplish them are a personal thing to us. For you, the goals and experience can and will most likely be completely different. I’ll share the experience from my view and maybe you can gain something from that. My background: I worked building houses in high school, have flipped a few houses, enjoy wiring and building, grew up with a father who built things for fun, and grew up running heavy machines my parents owned a part of their septic business. Meaning I know a thing or two about a thing or two, and have a foundation and confidence with construction concepts.
Our Timeline from Kev’s view
The years below start and end in June based on when we bought the property.
Year one 2012 – 2013
We purchased our land in June of 2012 with the intent of building a house. We spent the rest of that summer with Chain saws and Excavators exploring the lot and clearing the area chose to build on. Then we built a 14×14 shed to store things in and use as a point of demarcation for utilities. The property equipped with a well but no pipes, and a transformer vault without a transformer. Before PSE would install and a transformer and hook up power we needed an address. Before the county would grant us an address we needed to apply for some permits. Michelle did the paper work and I dug ditches and laid conduits. By the end of year one the shed was setup well enough we could stay in It overnight.
We spent almost every weekend at the property working on projects of some sorts. Every once and a while we’d take a weekend off and spend time together or take a road trip. For the most part the property was our weekend job. Luckily it’s one we enjoyed.
Year two 2013-2014
We bought a fifth wheel trailer to sleep in while spend weekends or whole weeks at the property and we started working on home design. We knew we wanted to build as much of the house as possible ourselves. This one choice guided more than any other the rest of the adventure. We talked to a bank to work out possibility of financing construction and were told the only way we could obtain a construction loan is with a licensed bonded contractor on the loan with. I talked to contractors I know and all of them have gotten out of the build from scratch game due to overhead and building market.
We talked about it and decided we were ok with taking longer to build the house using cash and started in on the long process. We finished clearing the property and running water and power all over the place. We had the septic system designed. We bought a few containers for more secure storage of tools and supplies and to slowly move out things into. Because we’re building out of pocket and I wanted a concrete home, we decided to use Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) for the walls to avoid renting panels, and to be on our own time table. While researching ICF, I discovered Structured Insulated Panels (SIP) and decided we wanted those for the roof. We met with a Andy Cloward, a Kitsap county architect, who drew plans for us.
Wanting to be closer to project we started to look for a house nearby to rebuild and live in while we built. I accidentally bought a house in October of 2013. Accidentally meaning, I found a house on redfin a mile from ours whose owners I knew had to sell to a cash buyer. I offered about half listing close in 5 days, a dick offer. They took the offer, then I had to tell Michelle – Um, honey I accidentally bought a house we should go look at it before it closes. Proving she’s the perfect wife for me she said Ya, let’s go look this is exciting. We moved into the house we called the Nelson house a month or so later after rebuilding it a bit.
After rebuilding the Nelson house, we tried to borrow money against it with a HELOC, because the house now held most of our cash. Turns out loan rules have changed a great deal since my last Buy make fancy then HELOC magic cash experience; Another discovery changing our plans. Our next move was to sell the house and move into the fifth wheel on the property full time. We applied for all of the permits and started building pretty aggressively while the Nelson house was on the market. We put in the septic system in and leveled out the area for the house.
We paid five digits to have cable internet installed then We sold the nelson house and moved into a fifth wheel building all the day light hours. The end of this year is where we really start working hard on the house. The Fifth wheel filled with kids was a great motivator. All of the permits are in and we’ve paid half of the 10k in permitting fees. We poured the footings and started in on the walls.
Year three 2014 – 2015
Michelle built the foam walls on scaffolding while 8 months preggers before we had Khaleesi. Yes, we now had a baby and 2 kids living in a fifth wheel. Khaleesi slept in a cardboard box from Costco next to our bed for most of her first year of life. Took us a month or so to stack all of the foam and fill it with rebar before we were ready to pour some sweet sweet concrete into them. Glorious concrete.
After the walls, we put the roof on the house and finally had a huge dry area to play in with the kids. Until then we had an 11×14 room in the shed as our living room, dining room, ETC .It did not seem horrible then, but looking back, WOW! Don’t know how we did it. We had a rug on the floor in the shed that’s now in the middle of our kid’s bedroom. That rug represented all of the play space we for about a year. It’s mind boggling to us sometimes. We decided to go with a glulam vs. scissor trusses for the roof around this time and had to spend a month in permit change land before we were able to install the roof.
After the roof we spent a cold winter preparing to pour the slab floor. We had to plumb the house and have it approved before we could start on the floor, and we had to run all of the electrical conduit and have it inspected as well. Once we passed those we laid down the foam, some wire mesh, and about a mile of PEX. Michelle got concrete floors for Xmass, and all of the doors and windows installed for valentine’s days of 2015. Another long year of building. By spring of 2015 we were finishing walls, and wiring, and setting up a kitchen and cooking in the house a bit. Life was starting to become better and be more spacious.
In May we were having the sheet rock installed and tried to burn the shed down while Khaleesi sleeping inside of it. We had some kittens sleeping on the deck with a heat lamp and they knocked the heat lamp into their bed. Michelle woke me from a nap saying the sheds on fire. Next thing I know I’m outside putting a fire out and the Sheet rock guy is running upstairs getting Khaleesi out. She was fine, and I have some great scars to remind me of the day.
Year four 2015-2016
July of 2015, we obtained final approval along with our occupancy permit and moved into the house. Since then we’ve been setting up the house working on borrowing against the place so we can build more. That took another 6 months because the house was too different to borrow against conventionally. (Because mortgage companies are stupidheads.) We’ve finally fixed that problem and are now about to start building some more.
What did we learn What do we Think
Building a house is an extremely personal, emotional, stressful, fulfilling, complicated process, full of choices and decisions and compromise. What worked for Michelle and I might not work for you or even be in the realm of your desires. Our style and design are not the road most traveled, but they are the road we traveled to create what we wanted, and desired. We learned a great deal from the process, I’ll drop some bullets now:
- If you want to build yourself, you need cash or hard money or a builder willing to let you to do the work with their name on your loan. Banks want the builder to supply two years of full tax returns as part of your loan paperwork.
- If you hire a builder you give up control, and take on the role of boss. You need to be capable and willing to tell your builder no and or fire them if need be. Your builder will instruct and direct you based on their desires and experiences. This might result in you not getting what you want, or it might result in you having a better far home. A builder will never care as much as you do. Michelle’s Parents and brother both built about the same time we did – these words are based the differences between our experiences and theirs.
- Permitting is expensive. We spent almost 10,000$ for building permits. The county was helpful and the inspectors were willing to answer any question. You wanted to hate them for the cost and control they have over us, but they were so nice and helpful hate was difficult to come by.
- We changed our mind and design on a regular basis and had to work out the impact of those choices. Very few days went by without having to decide or choose something like lumber, beam materials, sizes, colours, where to put walls, ETC. Being our own builder meant no need to talk to someone about our changes.
- You can answer most any question with some research and some thinking. Code compliance and how to build things required daily research. It was nice to have internet access on the property and a few reference books at hand.
- Be willing to change and give up ideas. Michelle and I had one dispute on design. She wanted a larger pantry, and I’m obsessed with symmetry in design. To give her what she wanted I had to give up what I wanted. She got what she wanted because her asks were few making it fair that she have the few things she asked for. In the end we both won because no more symmetry opened up the door for other odd things in the house. About 20% of the house design is there because we had to based on code compliance.
- Corners cost money and time when you build a house. Corners can add appeal later and help with resale. You should really have an idea the impact of cost up front vs. money down the road and consider this in your design. We’re long term in the house so resale means nothing to us. We wanted most useful space for our budget.
- PSE will run the first 275′ of power for 500$. We had 400amps installed in the shed and we were going to run the house off of it. It was cheaper to put another 400amps in the house and let PSE pay for the wire vs. buy it ourselves. Now we have 800 amps of power on the property.
- Cable companies will install anything less than 300′ mostly for free. Anything over there you’re looking at about 10$ a foot for the installation cost. Our drive way is 1000′ and the cable plant did not end at out driveway. OUCH! The sweet internets were worth every penny we paid.
- Fire departments will give you a 10×10′ clearing fire permit for free that’s good for two weeks. For free there is no reason to not obtain one.
- State electrical inspectors answer any and all questions you can come up dealing with code compliance if you’re nice about asking them. Some of them even appreciate it questions because it shows you’re not trying to hide things.
- When you’re all done you’ll look at things and think “I love that” or you think “What was I thinking, horrible idea” or maybe “I’d do that much differently next time” and you’ll be happy about all of the sayings.
- I relied on my father for a great deal of advice and helping me step back from the ledge when things confused me. Dad is a big part of who I am and the confidence I have to take on anything. I’m very thankful for my papa.
Would we do it again? Yes, in an instant.