Our Build

Our Lot

Sketch of our Floorplan. I created this sketch using lucidchart. It is a tool really designed for other types of drawings, but you can create floorplans with it fairly quickly. It also has a decently library of furniture that can be scaled to match your furniture sizes. You can draw somethings using primitives as well, like I did for the fireplace and the “nightstands”. I think placing furniture in your plan is critical to make sure walking paths are sufficient. You can find suggested interior design measurements here to help you layout room dimensions and ensure you have plenty of space for walking paths. Another tool for doing flooplans is homeby

Tracking my Budget

If you use startbuild.com to estimate your house build cost you can transfer that information in to my Google sheet budget tracking template. This is organized in three major sets of columns:

  1. Budgetary estimates by category I populated from startbuild.com from a very similar online plan in my building zipcode. Startbuild.com will use your plan for about $75 if you didn’t get your plans online. I then tweaked these for things I new would be different and added things like the sidewalk I have to put in. I also added costs for appliance similar to what we intend to install and were pretty easy to get. Note this budget isn’t meant to be perfect, but the more accurate the better.
  2. Firm estimates based on contractor bids or materials takeoffs from suppliers.
  3. Actual Costs after I have paid invoices.

A the bottom I have totaled each sub category, calculated the percentage of the entire budget and then ranked each category by its percentage of the overall budget. Finally I sorted them from largest percentage to smallest percentage. This tells me that my top 4 budget categories by percentage:

  • Framing Rough Shell
  • Concrete work
  • Ext Doors and Windows
  • Siding

are about 50% of my build costs. So my plan is to get these four categories estimated as quickly as possible. That should tell me whether I will be more or less on track with my plan without having to get estimates for everything.

How to Estimate Your Cost to Build

Here is my suggestion on how to get an estimate on costs. First, find a plan online that you like well enough. You can check out houseplans.com or dreamhomesource.com. The plan can be close, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Be careful about making extensive changes. This means you may have to look through lots of plans. Send the plan to startbuild.com. For $30 They will give you a breakdown for material and labor for your zip code for about 20 different building categories. Once you get their report they have drop downs where you can select the grade of materials you want to use and it will update costs. My experience is they seem reasonably accurate. You can spot check a few things if you want. I wouldn’t necessarily buy the online plan, by the way. But this is a way to get a reasonably accurate cost on a plan close to what you would build.

The second approach is to go on to Zillow and find some new construction around you. Again look for a house as similar to your online plan as possible. Write down the asking price for the house. Then find a lot around you and again write down the asking price. Now subtract the lot price from the house price you wrote down and multiple by .85. If the startbuild.com plan you used and the house you found on zillow are similar square footage divide both the startbuild cost by the square footage and the zillow house minus lot and builder cost by the square footage of the zillow house. If those two different costs per square foot are fairly close +/- $20 per square foot you will have a pretty good estimate of the cost per square foot in your area for a size house you estimated. Realize that it is pretty common for a larger house to have a lower cost per square foot. High cost areas like kitchens and bathrooms tend to be fairly constant. Additional floor area from lager rooms doesn’t add as much proportionally as do the “expensive” rooms.

If you plan to do a lot of the labor yourself, you can transfer the information to a Googlesheet spreadsheet and customize it to remove labor costs for your sweat equity (if you plan on doing any of your own labor) and get even closer to a final estimate.

More Free Resources Coming Soon!

  1. Pros and Cons for a slab-on-grade vs a crawl space
  2. Why I plan to do two blower door tests
  3. Everything I have gathered about how to air-seal
  4. Advantages and disadvantages of being an owner builder
  5. Suggestion for how to better schedule using the Gnatt chart
  6. Two independent methods for cross-checking a cost estimate
  7. My budget estimating and tracking template
  8. How to keep termites from eating you out of house and home – literally!
  9. My thoughts on creating a plan
  10. Things to look out for on a plan, lessons learned from our first house!
  11. My lot, my house plan – Just in case you’re curious
  12. A little bit about me and my family – for the really curious.
  13. Why we are moving to Bowling Green, Ky – it could have been anywhere!

Add comments to let me know which of these are most interesting to you and I will prioritize.

Free Checklists to Avoid Subcontractor Disasters

Here is a set of subcontractor checklists. You will need to edit these for your project. To me one of the main keys for managing subcontractors is making sure you have a common set of expectations agreed to up front. One of the main things to consider is that a subcontractor not do work on top of some other sub’s defective work. One of the most important things a sub needs to agree to is to examine the previous subs work and ensure none of their work will have to be removed and completed wasting both materials and time. That is the first part of these checklists, to confirm the substrate is ready or to contact the “project manager” and since I plan on being the owner-builder that is me :).

I recommend attaching the appropriate checklist to the subcontractors request for a bid and to make them an addendum to any contract signed with the subcontractor as a standard determining when the work is complete.

Stay on Schedule with this Gantt Chart Template

We are nervous as heck taking on the process of building again! The best way to manage this is to plan, plan, plan! In order to do that I have created a Gantt chart for the entire build process using the online Gantt chart creator at Instagantt. Instagantt is easy to use. They have a 7 day free trial. So you can load this template and edit it to decide if it is worth paying $7 a month. I tried using a Zoho project and another Gantt chart editor, before I finally found Instagantt. I had to abandon those plans partially finished, because the tools were just to awkward to use. If you sign up for the free trial or a paid subscription this is how you can load my template:

If you just want to see my Gantt chart you can click on the link here. This version of my Gantt Chart is useful if you need something now. As I improve my Gantt Chart this link will update and you can get the latest version. If you sign up for Instagantt you will start with a blank Gantt chart. You can populate your Gantt chart using the one in the link from above as a template. By following the steps below.

  1. Click on the on my to the left sidebar
  2. Then click on the green “+” icon
  3. select “From template”. A new dialog box will open.
  4. Select “Copy from public snapshot” tab
  5. Paste the link above in to the dialog box.
  6. Select a new start date for your project and then create it.
  7. The software will take the information from my link above and create a new project on your account based! 

Recommended Sites

I recently found the Facebook group Build your own house-Owner Builders started by Farmhousefromscratch.com. Farm house from scratch has a similar purpose as my blog, i.e., to help other people learn from the experience and knowledge we have gained on our owner-builder journey.

Matt Risinger’s YouTube channel is loaded with useful information.

Building Science.com is a great site. Enjoyable writing and definitive information on almost any building topic.

Fine Home building.com and Green Building Advisor.com are a pay sites that are well worth the money.

Free Own-Builder Templates!

Hi Everyone, thanks for visiting our Owner-Builder blog. Many of you are looking for files to use as templates to save you time. Below are quick links to blog entries that have my templates. They are filled in with my actual information so you have an example of how to use the template. Each link is a blog entry that gives you a brief explanation of the file and how to most easily copy and use it. I hope these resources save you time or give you a better idea of what planning an owner-builder project entails.

  • A Gantt Chart Schedule, to help you plan. How long will your build take? Am I on schedule? How far behind schedule am I? When do I need to order materials? You get the picture. I wouldn’t start a build without a Gantt chart schedule, even if you have a lot of experience building. In addition to helping you answer questions you have, it will also help you manage a “dynamic” schedule. This is even more important for owner-builders. Let’s face it we are the lowest priority for subs. They have to give priority to GCs and repeat business, which unless we are already in the construction business we aren’t likely to be. All this means the best thing we can do is keep our subs informed about changing schedules. I am going to do a post on how to insert “risk” management buffers in your schedule that will help you minimize “apparent” schedule changes. Minimize the apparent changes will help you stay on schedule, but that is for yet another post…
  • Subcontractor checklist, these are designed to help avoid problems with cost over-runs and delayed schedules. They are intended to set expectations and avoid problems like a subcontractor building on top of something with obvious problems, e.g., someone drywalling over a wall serious out of square or plumb. You don’t want a sub fulfilling the “letter” of their bid agreement, but you still have to rip out what they did and re-do it, costing demo time and cost, lost materials and the cost of repeating the work. You can easily imagine why this might happen, if a sub doesn’t have a good “substrate” to build on, and you don’t catch and correct it before they show up, the sub is going to have to make another trip. That costs the sub real time and money. So they just go ahead and “finish their work”. So, these checklists are for the subs and you to both work together to set expectations, avoid problems and in the worst of all cases to justify holding back payment until work is completed properly. But you really, really don’t want that to happen for everyone’s sake.
  • A budget template, this is maybe the most important. Figuring out how much a house is likely to cost to build in your area, before you start building is critical. Tracking it, especially in this volatile building materials cost environment is also critical. You can’t control the cost of materials, but you can adjust as you go. But, the really critical thing is not to start something you have no hope of affording. One problem with being an owner builder is the more you learn the more money you will want to spend.
  • Estimating the cost to build, this isn’t a template, but more of a suggestion about how to get a cost estimate as early in the process as possible that is as accurate as possible. That can help you refine your search for a plan and help you set expectations. One thing you will find, is if you want to work with a designer or architect as you go through the process, it is very easy for the house to get bigger and bigger.

My wife and I were the general contractor for our current house, which we have lived in for the past 23 years. We built this house with a three year-old and and six-year old in tow. With our current house we had the help of a construction manager to find subs, etc. We learned a lot building our current house, but we built this house while we had young children and before the internet was a widely used thing and before a lot of better building techniques have been developed.

This time we are retiring and moving to Bowling Green, KY. For this house we are taking the training wheels off and managing the build entirely on our own! Unless you have a lot of construction experience, I don’t know how a family with a couple of small children and possibly two full time jobs find the time to do the research and planning to be an owner-builder. That is precisely where I hope this blog helps. I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours researching and planning our new house. And I was only able to do that because I have a lot of project management experience at my paying job and I have had the experience of building my own house in the past and mostly because I have the time to spend hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours researching and planning our next house, because my children are now all adults. I hope I can share all of the research and planning I have done in an efficient way to significantly reduce the time it takes you to get a solid plan in place. I sincerely hope that by helping you plan better that I can help you realize your dream home with the minimum stress and anxiety. We love the house we built over 20 years ago we raised three wonderful children here. But, now that our children are grown it is time to do it again! The key is to plan, plan plan. I also suggest you visit farmhousefromscratch.com where you will get a different perspective, but see common themes (e.g., plan, plan, plan) with my blog. The key difference between my blog and Farm House From Scratch is I plan to emphasize planning detailed building techniques and energy efficiency instead of Farm House From Scratch’s emphasis on doing your construction work without a loan. Regardless, of your plan there is are value in seeing this from multiple perspectives. Lastly I suggest you join the facebook owner-builder group Build Your Own House-Owner Builders that was started by “Farmer and his Wife”, That group has a bunch of friendly, helpful people who are willing to answer questions in real-time and share their experience.