Armchair Builder

You Cannot Build Your Own House

Build Your Own House

Ask most general contractors if it’s possible to build your own home and you’ll hear a bunch of reasons why you shouldn’t.  I guess they figure the speech is necessary for job security.  After all, if they talk enough people out of general contracting their own home, it should leave plenty of work for them right?  I found one of these “don’t try this at home” speeches from Tom Silva over at This Old House.  Here’s some of Tom’s less than accurate reasoning for why you can’t do it yourself.

Getting Up Early

The first reason Tom feels you can’t build your own home is because you need to get up at 5:30 a.m.  Hmmmm.  I’ve built hundreds of homes, actually in the thousands, and I’ve rarely been to the job site before 7 a.m.  Why?  Because most trade contractors don’t get there until 7:30 to 8 a.m.  And for those days when you do need to get to the job site extra early, I’m sure you have an alarm clock that will help you make it happen.

Making a Bunch of Phone Calls

Tom also seems to think that you aren’t capable of making phone calls to contractors and suppliers.  First of all Tom, if you’re making calls to these companies all day you must be doing something wrong.  I suppose that’s why they call it This Old House.  With an emphasis on the old, meaning old school.  The organized general contractors of today use schedules to prevent from having to make calls all day.  Sure, there will be some daily communication.  But phone calls can be minimized with proper planning.

Checking the Quality of Subs

Stopping by the job site to check to make sure the trades are doing quality work is a deal breaker according to Tom Silva.  Maybe this is why he wants you to get up at 5:30 a.m?  Yes, owner builders will need to check quality daily.  But there are so many tools available to help the owner builder with that today.  It’s definitely not rocket science.  One of the Armchair Builder resources, The Builder’s Daily Construction Guide, provides some of the checklists you will need throughout the process including the rough frame quality check.  And if you aren’t comfortable checking it yourself, you can hire an architect or builder consultant to help you with this part of the process.

Making Snap Decisions That Have a Huge Impact

Tom thinks you may not have the ability to analyze a situation and apply reasoning to make a good decision.  I don’t think he’s giving you enough credit.  By the way, we’re not saving a patient that can’t breath or trying to diagnose a life threatening condition here.  As an owner builder, you can take all the time you need to get all the facts and make a good decision.

Working on Paperwork Until 10 P.M.

As a general contractor, Tom apparently does paperwork until 10 o’clock each night.  I’m baffled by this one.  Does anyone do paperwork any more?  Personally, I use a laptop/smartphone for estimating, scheduling, budgeting, bank draws…etc.  And I can tell you for sure, if you only have one house to build your weekly “paperwork” should be minimal.  Maybe Tom is building a bunch of houses and if so, good for him.

Getting the Best Prices from Subs

According to Tom Silva, “Part of my job is to get the best prices from the subs that work for me.”  My question for Tom is, “Do you pass these great prices on to your customers?”  If so, great.  My guess is most general contractors don’t.  As an owner builder you can get the best price by using bid sheets to compare pricing from a minimum of three companies.  Bid sheets are something only the best general contractor/home builders use and now owner builders have access to them.

Thanks for your input Tom but I think people should go elsewhere to get answers about general contracting their own home.  Yes, it is a complicated process that takes planning and effort.  And yes, it does require a serious time commitment.  However, I don’t see the process as being too complicated or too much for the average person.  If you would like to see some of the other Armchair Builder resources that will help you make it happen, check out our e-Store.  You really can build your own house if you have the extra time, get resources and guidance from the pros that are willing to help, and focus your attention on getting it done.

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